The U.S. is failing the test …WHY

How many tests for COVID-19 are being performed around the world?

We want to know the total number of people infected with COVID-19. This requires performing a diagnostic test.

The US, on the other hand, has had big problems rolling out their testing strategy. The total number of tests conducted in South Korea is nearly 25-times larger than in the US. 

There are two important reasons why testing is still low in many countries affected by COVID-19 today, March 10.

First, some people who are infected with COVID-19 have mild symptoms and therefore do not go to get checked (we explain the symptoms in our article here); and second, in some places there is not enough testing capacity.1

When the number of people who get tested is too low, the number of confirmed cases – which we know thanks to tests – is substantially lower than the true total number of people who are infected, which is a number we do not know.

Testing is crucial to understand the prevalence of the disease, to provide timely treatment to those infected, to understand how the disease evolves, and to ensure that we take measures to stop the disease from spreading.

This last point is very important: Testing is crucial to lowering the rate of infection. When infected people do not know that they are infected, they might not stay at home and risk infecting others.

How are COVID-19 tests done?

The most common diagnostic tests for COVID-19 are the so-called “PCR tests” that use swabbed samples from a patient’s nose and throat. The first PCR tests were developed within two weeks from identifying the disease, and are currently part of the protocol recommended by the WHO.2

 

What do we know about COVID-19 test coverage right now?

Ideally, we would want to know how many people in the world are being tested for COVID-19 every day, and how the available tests are being allocated.

Unfortunately, there is no centralized WHO data on COVID-19 testing and most countries do not provide official reports on tests performed. This is different from official records on confirmed cases and deaths, which we report in our article here.

Some countries do provide aggregate estimates on the total number of tests performed up to a specific date, but these are published across individual websites, statistical reports and press releases – often in multiple languages and updated with different periodicity.

Given the large problems with data availability, we did a manual review of data across national reports, and included the most recent estimates that we could find as of 10 March 2020, 19.00 GMT.3

Here we list estimates country by country, including only figures from official sources (i.e. excluding social media posts and quotes from newspaper articles).

The available data shows that South Korea is clearly doing much better than other countries – and this seems to be paying off, because we know that daily confirmed cases in South Korea are going down.

The US, on the other hand, has had big problems rolling out their testing strategy. The total number of tests conducted in South Korea is nearly 25-times larger than in the US.

In the UK, the total number of tests is 3-times larger than in the US, even though the UK today has a lower number of confirmed cases (373 confirmed cases in the UK vs 472 confirmed cases in the US).

The fact that South Korea has managed to expand testing so quickly shows that it is possible. It is important that in the coming days other countries follow rapidly.

 

Tests march 10

Country by country estimates and sources

South Korea

  • Source: Report from the Korean Center for Disease Control, 10 March 20:28 local time, online here.
  • Number of tests: 210,144 tests performed.
  • Remarks: South Korea is the country that has done the largest number of tests. As a share of the population, they have done 3,800 tests per million people. The statistical reports from the Korean Center for Disease Control, including confirmed cases and tests conducted, are always published in the same repository (online here) and are updated daily. This repository allows inferring daily tests for the last couple of weeks.

Italy

  • Source: Report from Ministry of Health, 10 March 15:00 local time, online here.
  • Number of tests: 60,761 tests performed.
  • Remarks: The statistical updates from the Italian government including confirmed cases and tests conducted, are reported in the “News and Media” section of the website from the Italian Ministry of Health, online here. These are issued regularly but not necessarily every day.

United Kingdom

  • Source: Department of Health and Social Care and Public Health England, figures from 10 March 9:00 local time, reported on the official website “Number of coronavirus (COVID-19) cases and risk in the UK”, online here.
  • Number of tests:  26,261 tests performed.
  • Remarks: These figures are updated daily. Using historical records from web.archive.org it’s possible to reconstruct estimates of daily tests in the UK for the last couple of weeks.

Japan

  • Source: Press release dated 10 March 2020, published in Japanese by the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare here.
  • Number of tests:   21,174 tests performed.
  • Remarks: The estimate of 21,174 tests comes from a side note on the main table in the press release. The translation of the note via Google Translate is as follows: “From February 18 to March 8, the number of PCR tests for new coronavirus in Japan (National Institute for Infectious Diseases, National Institutes of Health, etc.) was 21,174. Data for today is currently being compiled”.4 An earlier report from a press release dated 6 March, published by the Japanese Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare in English here, states a much lower number (9,600 tests conducted).

United States

  • Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, report from 9 March noon, published here.
  • Number of tests: 8,554 tests performed.
  • Remarks: The total number of tests in the report from 9 March includes tests conducted in CDC labs (N=3,698) and US public health laboratories (N=4,856). The chart here includes the number of tests by laboratory type and date. Earlier CDC reports, from before 9 March, are not available from the source. The report from 9 March includes a note that reads: “This page will be updated regularly at noon Mondays through Fridays. Data close out at 4 p.m. the day before reporting.”

Austria

  • Source: The Austrian Federal Ministry for Social Affairs, Health, Care and Consumer Protection, report from 10 March 2020 15:00 local time, published in German here.
  • Number of tests: 5,026 tests performed.
  • Remarks: The number of confirmed cases and tests conducted in Austria is updated daily in the same link above. Using historical records from web.archive.org it’s possible to reconstruct estimates of daily tests for the last week.

Denmark

  • Source: Statens Serum Institut (SSI), under the Danish Ministry of Health, report from 10 March 16.30 local time, published in Danish here.
  • Number of tests: 1,631 tests performed.
  • Remarks: The number of confirmed cases and tests conducted in Denmark is updated regularly on the same link above.

Czech Republic

  • Source: Ministry of Health, report from 9 March 2020 17:05, published in English here.
  • Number of tests: 928 tests performed.
  • Remarks: The number of confirmed cases and tests conducted in the Czech Republic is published in English as a table on the same link above. Data is reported every day in the morning with up-to-date figures as at the end of the previous day.

Philippines

  • Source: The Republic of the Philippines Department of Health, report from10 March, published in English here.
  • Number of tests: 691 tests performed.
  • Remarks: The number of confirmed cases and tests conducted in the Philippines is updated regularly on the same link above.

Finland

  • Source: Finish Institute for Health and Welfare, report from press release on 10 March 11:30 local time, published in English here.
  • Number of tests: 720 tests performed
  • Remarks:  The number of confirmed cases and tests conducted in Finland are updated regularly in the link above, but the source notes that these estimates are approximate.

Hungary

  • Source: Coronavirus Information Page, Hungarian Government, report from 10 March 14:25 local time, published in Hungarian here.
  • Number of tests: 531 tests performed.
  • Remarks: The number of confirmed cases and tests conducted in Hungary are reported regularly in the same link above.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s