The US tested the wrong people for coronavirus

The US tested the wrong people for coronavirus

And you can tell because of a number called the test positivity rate.

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As the rate of new coronavirus cases in the US slows down, many states and cities there are encouraging businesses to open again, easing the lockdowns that have been in place since March. But public health experts warn that in many of those places, opening up is premature.

The reason is that throughout the US, as well as in many other countries, we still don’t really know how many people have the virus, or where they are. That’s dangerous because it means infected people who don’t feel sick are probably mingling with the rest of the population, which could enable further outbreaks. And the only way to really prevent that is by proactively testing people for covid-19 until the people who have it have been tracked down and isolated.

The US started testing its population for covid-19 very slowly, but it’s since ramped testing up, and by early May was performing over 200,000 tests a day. Unfortunately, there’s no magic number of tests that is “enough” to contain an outbreak. The important thing is to test the right people — and to evaluate whether that’s happening, public health officials recommend looking at a different number: The percentage of tests coming back positive. It’s called the test positivity rate.

Note: The headline on this piece has been updated.
Previous headline: What the US needs to do to open up safely


Our World in Data is a reliable source for country-by-country covid-19 data:

Our World in Data also has weekly-rolling test-positivity rate data which gives a better snapshot of where countries are currently at:

We based our state test-positivity rates on this May 6 Harvard Global Health Institute and NPR analysis:

The Atlantic’s coverage of the importance of test-positivity rates:

An important disclaimer on potential inflation in testing numbers at the national and state level in the US: is a news website that helps you cut through the noise and understand what’s really driving the events in the headlines. Check out

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70 Responses

  1. Kevin Gao says:

    Costco staff: please wear a mask.
    Customer: I refuse, coz last I checked i woke up in a free country.

    • Primal Convoy says:

      Austin V

      You mean in Europe, where the amount of infections is LOWER and the death-rate is LOWER?

    • Primal Convoy says:

      Greg Williams


      There are many countries that are “free”. Also, “freedom” has limits, due to something called “responsibility”. Hence the rule of law, social obligation and rules.

      You comment is null and void.

    • KnightLite says:

      Andrew Richardson what’s your take then on places that have always said “no shirt, no shoes, no service”? It’s the same exact thing except this time it’s actually serving a purpose

    • Rob Shapiro says:

      @Andrew Richardson not in public you dont

    • Kara Badasski says:

      @Cilandia Lane majority of Americans are not like that. Just the uneducated hicks.

  2. Abbs says:

    I was at the ER recently to be admitted to a psych ward, they had to give everyone a COVID test. It took 7 hours for the test results to come back, and the hospital only gets 100 tests per week. I was lucky but some of my peers had to wait 2-3 days in order to just get tested.

  3. Rodrigo Torres says:

    -Mexico, how many positive cases do you have?
    -And how many tests did you apply?

    • Bj Moon says:

      Finally we have found the cause !

    • calvin ! says:

      eddie gonzalez and we’re wondering why we’re still in quarantine…

    • Andre Ingram aka DJ Screw RIP says:

      @eddie gonzalez You’re lucky. I wonder if you’ll say “It’S NoT a BiG dEaL” if one of your loved ones get sick and don’t recover

    • Bj Moon says:

      @calvin ! where are you at ? and if you ask my opinion it is because the beast system is being quietly being fully activated, and if and when the world reconveins it will never be the same. My friend I believe were are In The Time of Jacob’s trouble as spoken of in Jeremiah 30 :7 that is bible prophecy . Jesus is the only thing that can saves us now .

    • zaksor parkour says:

      @Ajay Menon except they don’t do any testing outdoors. If you’re sick, you go to a hospital, you get tested positive, you be quarantined. If not, you go home.

      Source: I live in Yemen

  4. Telmen Budsuren says:

    Mongolia: Zero local transmission
    All cases imported
    im out

  5. jayingee lover says:

    News: get masks

    Me:it’s bold of u to think I go outside

    Edit:the most likes I got on a comment

  6. Xaxos92 says:

    2019: Avoid negative people
    2020: Avoid positive people

  7. Freedom Strider says:

    Testing is just one part of the solution, as with everything else, so we have to implement ALL solutions together.

    • Running Debate says:

      @Minho Shin and you think they didn’t already spread it to 100s of people during their asystematic period, and those people spread it to 100s of other people and so on. Then what if they test positive but still go out and do whatever which tons do, do we put them in prison?

    • Mark Sebring says:

      @Minho Shin effectively isolating sick people would require daily testing of the entire population. Thats 10,500,000,000 test a month. No nation can do that. Nor should they. Huge waste of resources for something that the vast majority of people overcome.

    • Sunday White Rabbit says:

      Baaa baaa baaa…chews cud….baaaa baaaa…chews more cud…..baaaa baaaa

    • mkrp4 says:

      They will be part of herd immunity experiment

    • R. Cogburn says:

      There are no “solutions together”. Barr Durham carry my solution.

  8. aratosm says:

    This video is just silly while we have a private health care system that charges an arm and a leg for basic services.

  9. Achak Hakan says:

    Old news: everybody should know this already.

  10. initialsSG says:

    My sister caught it, and they refused to test her until she was so sick that she checked into the ER. A week later state officials were bragging how they had more tests available than patients to test. That sums this whole thing up.

    • E Chin says:

      Wow that’s incredible, I hope your sister is feeling better now.

    • truth seeker says:

      Its simple if they had treated her at the earlier stage she would have healed and they won’t have a chance to add a death statistic to their narrative.

  11. A HHh says:

    everyone living in fear and it shows.

  12. Kababy Loadmanagement says:

    There’s a simple reason why we’re not doing more tests; the government hasn’t found a way to make it at least $4,000.

    • HeyNowLookHere says:

      @Viictor Martinezz South Korea cares more about their people than United States.

    • Malcolm X Clan says:

      we cannot even get n95 masks and sanitizer for everyone. we are long past the ‘shortages’ for hospital staff and others. they are telling us to wear t shirts and grandma made masks as a substitute. more masks for the public means less transmission from person to person. hoarding all the masks for hospitals makes no sense.

    • jon dawber says:

      @Viictor Martinezz we have the money but want to keep it

    • Dustin Stein says:

      What you talking about? The test is free

    • Gary Chandler says:


  13. President Camacho says:

    interesting how long it takes to rediscover things that experts learned in college

  14. Ted Walker says:

    My experience in life in the US is that, we only think reactive, instead of proactive about everything.

    • Jauhgn says:

      Daniel Nelson I don’t think this was planned by world leaders..,

    • Marco Solis says:

      @Jauhgn your a bot

    • Тамара Белка says:

      Daniel Nelson you had an idea, not the plan. Plan is when you well thought about how you will implement your idea, exact steps and resources. How you will quarantine every person and make sure they stay in quarantine? Were you will station them? Who will serve them? How are you going to protect those who are around quarantined people, especially if you don’t have supply of PPE. Besides, by the moment we knew about outbreak in China, many had chance to come into the contact with the virus. Oh, and i forgot to mention, that you should be a President who is willing to spend lots of money on your plan, not just wishing the miracle.

    • SaintNick71 says:

      @BlaireBear Plays No need

    • Jauhgn says:

      Marco Solis because I don’t think it was a conspiracy? Also it’s you’re not your

  15. Atheons Spec says:

    Guy: Hi so I developed a-

    Doctor: yea.. we are just going to assume you have it.

  16. Robert S says:

    I was saying this immediately and got called all sorts of names for it.

    This isn’t science btw, it’s common sense.

    • Random Bloke says:

      Vince Scaglione Nope! If you’re going to make extraordinary claims then extraordinary evidence is required.

    • Raw Master says:

      @Random Bloke yes, it is killing more. but more people are also surviving through it. look into the antibody tests in new york if you actually want to learn about the death rates

    • Vince Scaglione says:

      @Lindy Brown Quarantines have NEVER been issued for the well…only the sick. By staying in you are sheltering yourself while simultaneously weakening your immune system! I have NEVER seen a person not get blisters on his hands by NOT using a shovel!

    • Robert S says:

      @Random Bloke comparing it to the flu is kinda faulty tho. They’ve also been blowing that out of proportion for years.

    • Vince Scaglione says:

      @Random Bloke Okay……what say you about the reports of doctors being coerced into claiming deaths as covid when there was no proof? What about hospitals being granted more federal funds for more covid victims..and thus hospitals fudging the numbers? What about California…they have literal blocks and blocks of what amounts to acres of tent cities for homeless, yet even where there is no running water to clean your hands or body, no home to shelter in, very seriously malnourished population wigged out on drugs, yet the chance of covid in Ca is 0.0033 …..not even a half of a percentage mark! I could go on, and on, and on!

  17. Charls Alvs says:

    Same happened to me in AZ. High fever, sore throat and coughing and they just told me I’m not high risk and couldn’t test.

  18. Mindful Bucket 95 says:

    Teachers in 2019: You HAVE to be social.
    2020:uh, nevermind.

  19. Cpt. Duck says:

    “Ok we are gonna assume u have it, but we are not gonna test u”

  20. Sean Hong says:

    Goes to show how America’s health care system is a joke. It always has been and always will be. A true shame.

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