The US tested the wrong people for coronavirus

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The US tested the wrong people for coronavirus 4

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

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

In a previous version of this video, the circles in the infographic at 5:50 and 6:20 were incorrectly sized. The error has been corrected.


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:

💬 Comments on the video

AMERICA: Cant have a second wave if your first never ends.

Author — Questchaun


it's just annoying that america has the most expensive healthcare and yet... FAILS to test effectively... just ridiculous

Author — Leslie Null :3


Coronavirus is exposing how weak America’s healthcare system is. It’s sad

Author — Nb


America is a reality show for the rest of the world and the president is the main character

Author — Chan PK


“So you probably have it but we don’t have tests so good luck “

Author — Adrian Alzamora


America, the most third-world first world country.

Author — Steve Epic


movies: america saves the world
irl: america dies

Author — Ironic Cookies


The pandemic isn’t over, Americans, or at least American politicians, just got over caring about it.

Author — Cameron


I can't believe the States are so far behind most developed nations. They're always saying they are the greatest and most powerful country, but now when it's time to step up and show that where is the proof.

Author — Keke M


First they've vote the wrong person,
Now they're testing the wrong person.

Author — Allan regista


Less tests means less cases. According to the President.

Author — Ray Mak


The most important reason of the success of South Korea is Koreans wear a mask and wash their hands frequently!!

Author — Pope


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.

Author — initialsSG


Bruh that wasnt testing they were literally just confirming the cases... It was basically a "you have all the symptoms, yup you have corona"

Author — Vani


Everyone should qualify for a test, no matter who they are. Denying people for testing completely diminishes the point of testing people in the first place.

Author — Joel Hayes


We’re living through history rn. Kids will be learning about this in school some day

Author — 1 sub equals 1 meme


"Okay we assume you have it but we won't test you"

Author — Fish Cutting


2019: Avoid negative people
2020: Avoid positive people

Author — Xaxos92


Brazil : there won't be any cases if we don't test

Author — Vaibhav Thalanki


Who disliked this? Knowledge is power. Stay ignorant, keep infecting people....

Author — Carina Raymond