COVID-19 testing update: Where the US stands now

Testing for COVID-19 remains one of the biggest obstacles in reopening the U.S. economy and returning to a pre-COVID life. 

Below is a breakdown of where the U.S. stands on COVID-19 testing as of April 29, including the numbers of tests that have been conducted, how many tests experts say are needed to reopen the U.S. and new developments from the government on its efforts to expand testing. 

By the numbers

  • The U.S. had tested 5,795,728 people as of April 29 at 10:30 a.m. CDT, about 1.75 percent of the U.S. population
  • 1,015,289 people in the U.S. have tested positive for COVID-19
  • In the last seven days, the US has tested an average of 229,822 people per day 
  • In the last two weeks, the U.S. has conducted an average of 1,344,998 tests per week 
  • The U.S. conducted 547,511 more tests in the last week than the week before 

How many tests do we need to reopen? 

Harvard researchers said last week that the U.S. needs to test at least 500,000 people per day, or 3.5 million per week, to safely reopen the economy, according to The Hill.

Anthony Fauci, MD, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told CNN April 28 that the country needs about 3 million tests per week.

Government officials said April 27 the U.S. should have the capacity to test 2 million people per week by the end of May, according to The Hill. 

Dr. Fauci told CNN he hopes that by the end of May or beginning of June, everyone who needs a COVID-19 test will be able to receive one. 

Other testing benchmarks for reopening

One benchmark public health officials have said will help determine when the U.S. can reopen safely is the percentage of tests that come back positive, NPR reported. If a high percentage of tests come back positive, that's an indication that there are not enough tests to capture the total infected population in a community. 

William Hanage, an epidemiologist at Harvard, told NPR that testing would be sufficient if 10 percent of tests or fewer come back positive. 

Nationally, about 17.5 percent of COVID-19 tests have come back positive as of April 29, according to data from Johns Hopkins

State by state, the percentage of positive tests vary. 

The percentage of positive tests in the five states with the most confirmed COVID-19 cases as of April 28, according to data from Johns Hopkins: 

  • New York — 34.9 percent
  • New Jersey — 48.6 percent
  • Massachusetts — 22 percent
  • Illinois — 19.9 percent
  • California — 8 percent 

Another benchmark the U.S. is using to determine when to reopen is how many days the number of new cases and hospitalizations declines, according to NPR. The criteria to move into phase one of the White House's plan to reopen includes a 14-day decline in new cases and hospitalizations. 

New developments

On April 29, the NIH announced a new program with $1.5 billion in federal stimulus funding to speed up development of COVID-19 diagnostic tests called the Rapid Acceleration of Diagnostics, or RADx, initiative.

As part of the program, the NIH is encouraging all scientists to compete in a national COVID-19 testing challenge for a share of up to $500 million. Successful candidates will be paired with manufacturers and business experts to help scale up production of the tests. 

On April 27, the government offered a new blueprint for states to scale up their testing and said the federal government would serve as a coordinator between states and the private sector to help ramp up testing efforts, according to The Hill. 

Part of the plan includes a goal to provide enough tests that each state can test at least 2 percent of its population. 

But experts have argued that most states already are testing 2 percent of their residents and are struggling to ramp up capacity without federal help, according to The Hill. Labs say they need federal funding to increase the number of tests they can run in a day. 

The latest coronavirus stimulus bill included $25 billion for testing, and the American Clinical Laboratory Association, which represents commercial labs, has urged the government to allocate a portion of that to provide direct support to labs conducting COVID-19 tests, The Hill reported. 

The CDC also updated its guidelines April 27 on COVID-19 test eligibility.

The new guidelines place residents in long-term facilities, such as nursing homes or prisons, who have COVID-19 symptoms as high priority to receive a test. 

The CDC also said anyone who has symptoms including fever, cough, shortness of breath, chills, muscle pain, new loss of taste or smell, vomiting or diarrhea and/or sore throat should be a priority to receive a test. 

The CDC guidelines also suggest tracking asymptomatic people according to state and local plans.

Editors note: This article was updated April 29 at 2:25 p.m. to include the announcement from the NIH.


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