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How different countries are approaching coronavirus testing


March. 12, 2020

Some countries moved more quickly than others to broadly test for COVID-19. While the US had a slow start, testing activity is picking up in a number of states.
The more than 100 countries now reporting confirmed cases of COVID-19 share a desire to stop its spread. But they’ve taken distinct approaches to testing for the coronavirus.
Some places, like South Korea , quickly tested relatively large parts of their populations. Others had a slower start. In the US, a country of roughly 329 million people, 8,554 specimens had been tested at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other labs as of 10 March – though multiple specimens are generally required per individual test. Perceptions of an initially sluggish testing pace have added to general concern .
The degree of testing in any country can depend on criteria. The CDC, for example, initially applied a narrow view to who merited testing – only people who had recently traveled to China or had contact with someone infected qualified . On 4 March, the CDC expanded its criteria.
Washington state, home to about 7.5 million people and the first major outbreak in the US, said its public health lab is ramping up capacity to be able to test 200 people daily. Comprehensive data on testing in each state can be difficult to collect. However, the independent Covid Tracking Project is attempting to monitor the testing being done on a state by state basis (it acknowledges that its data isn’t perfect). The variation in activity is dramatic – Texas, the second-most-populous state, barely registers in the representation of the project’s data below.
A country’s wherewithal when it comes to testing is a key measure of its ability to deal with the impact of COVID-19. Some places have applied practical creativity to the problem – both South Korea and a Seattle healthcare system have deployed drive-through testing methods, for example.
For more context, here are links to more reading, courtesy of the World Economic Forum’s Strategic Intelligence platform :
Current COVID-19 tests have a big drawback: they only work when the virus is still present. The race is on to develop a test to identify people who had the virus but recovered, and researchers in Singapore may have won. ( Science ) A panel of experts including a scientist who developed the Global Health Security Index discuss coronavirus-related matters, including response efforts and misinformation. ( Johns Hopkins University ) Americans may avoid getting tested due to a fear that they’ll have to pay a lot of money for it. California and New York have ordered insurers to cover testing and waive patient costs, but much uncertainty remains. ( Kaiser Health News ) The White House’s response to the COVID-19, including problems with the federal government’s handling of testing for the coronavirus, is the subject of a House Oversight Committee investigation. ( ProPublica ) Test kits may not be the only medical equipment in short supply. The US’s secretive $7 billion stash of emergency medical equipment – the Strategic National Stockpile – has come under fire for a perceived shortage of masks. ( STAT ) Yet another drawback related to the fact that America has only just started widespread COVID-19 testing: we should brace for an even more hysterical media cycle in the coming weeks. ( Project Syndicate ) In the absence of a functioning, widely available primary care capacity, the US will have to establish ad hoc systems to advise and treat Americans who have COVID-19 related issues – real or feared. ( Harvard Business Review )
On the Strategic Intelligence platform, you can find feeds of expert analysis related to COVID-19 , Global Health and hundreds of additional topics. You’ll need to register to view.
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