Virus testing in the US is dropping, even as deaths mount

August 05, 2020
FILE - In this Sunday, July 12, 2020, vehicles wait in line at a COVID-19 testing site at the Miami Beach Convention Center during the coronavirus pandemic in Miami Beach, Fla. As coronavirus cases surge in hard-hit Florida, so do the turnaround times for test results. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky, File)

United States testing for the coronavirus is dropping even as infections remain high and the death toll rises by more than 1,000 a day, a worrisome trend that officials attribute largely to Americans getting discouraged over having to wait hours to get a test and days or weeks to find out the results.

An Associated Press analysis found that the number of tests per day slid 3.6% over the past two weeks to 750,000, with the count falling in 22 states.

That includes places like Alabama, Mississippi, Missouri and Iowa where the percentage of positive tests is high and continuing to climb, an indicator that the virus is still spreading uncontrolled.

Amid the crisis, some health officials are calling for the introduction of a different type of test that would yield results in a matter of minutes and would be cheap and simple enough for millions of Americans to test themselves — but would also be less accurate.

“There’s a sense of desperation that we need to do something else,” said Dr Ashish Jha, director of Harvard’s Global Health Institute.

Widespread testing is considered essential to containing the outbreak as the US approaches a mammoth 5 million confirmed infections and more than 156,000 deaths out of over 700,000 worldwide.

Testing demand is expected to surge again this fall, when schools reopen and flu season hits, most likely outstripping supplies and leading to new delays and bottlenecks.

Some of the decline in testing over the past few weeks was expected after backlogged commercial labs urged doctors to concentrate on their highest-risk patients.

But some health and government officials are seeing growing public frustration and waning demand.

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