- President Trump on Monday said America leads the world in coronavirus testing.
- The US has performed more total tests than any other country — more than 9 million — but it lags behind in terms of testing per capita.
- Italy has performed the highest number of coronavirus tests per million people: nearly 42,000.
- Canada and the UK are next on the list — each has tested more than 29,000 residents out of every 1 million.
- A comparison of testing per capita in seven countries shows the US is no longer woefully behind other nations. But even more testing is still needed for the country to reopen safely.
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More than 9.3 million people in the US have been tested for the new coronavirus.
It’s an impressive figure — and one that President Donald Trump touted during a speech at the White House on Monday.
Trump said the US leads the world in testing and pledged that the country would surpass 10 million tests this week — “nearly double the number of any other country,” he noted.
But while the US has performed the highest total number of tests worldwide, it does not have the highest rate of testing per capita. When it comes to tests performed per number of residents, the US lags behind Italy, Canada, and the UK.
Italy has performed more than 41,700 tests per 1 million residents, while Canada and the UK have performed about 29,750 and 29,225 tests per million people, respectively.
The US comes in behind that trio, with about 28,480 tests performed per 1 million residents. According to Vox, Germany, New Zealand, and Denmark are also beating the US’s testing rate.
The chart above tracks only diagnostic tests, which determine whether someone has an active COVID-19 infection. Such tests involve taking samples of mucus and saliva and running a test in a lab to see whether those samples contain the coronavirus’ genomic sequence. But not every country reports testing using the same metric, which can make these rates difficult to compare. The UK reports “people tested,” the US reports “total test results,” Canada reports “individuals tested,” and Japan reports “persons.” South Korea, meanwhile, reports its testing total as “cases,” Turkey as number of “tests,” and Italy as number of “swabs.”
In total, tests around the world have confirmed more than 4.2 million coronavirus infections. At least 289,900 people have died from COVID-19 since the outbreak began in December.
Widespread testing is the key to reopening countries safely
At the beginning of its outbreak, the US was woefully behind other nations in its tests-per-capita rate, due to a series of missteps that resulted in the distribution of faulty kits and delays in the widespread rollout of tests. On March 8, South Korea’s total number of tests done per million citizens was roughly 700 times the US’s, despite the fact that the two countries announced their first coronavirus cases on the same day.
By mid-April, the US had caught up, surpassing every country except Italy.
Widespread diagnostic testing, coupled with the rollout of antibody tests that analyze a person’s blood to determine whether they’ve already had COVID-19, can inform public-health officials about the scope of a local or national outbreak.
When combined with contact tracing, adequate testing enables officials control the virus’s spread. South Korea, for instance, was able to control its coronavirus outbreak in just 20 days by aggressively ramping up testing and then tracking down and quarantining anyone who came into contact with infected patients.
To properly keep tabs on the virus in the US and remobilize the economy, according to an April report from Harvard University, the US should be testing 20 million people per day by mid-summer. Currently, it’s testing fewer than 300,000 people per day. On Monday, Trump promised states $11 billion in aid for additional testing.
Andy Kiersz contributed reporting to this story.