The U.S. needs to significantly ramp up its testing and conduct nearly 200 million tests per month in schools and nursing homes to safely reopen, a new report outlining testing protocols from Duke University’s Margolis Center for Health Policy and the Rockefeller Foundation finds, as adequate testing capacity continues to be an issue in the U.S. and the White House has come under fire for scaling back testing guidelines.
The report finds that at the country’s current infection rates, 193 million total tests would be needed in schools and nursing homes “for them to open safely and in stages”—in addition to tens of millions of tests needed for essential workers and high-risk populations outside of schools and nursing homes.
If infections fall to a rate of less than one daily case per 100,000 people, then schools and nursing homes would only need 72 million tests per month.
“The testing needed in just schools and nursing homes exceeds the nation’s entire capacity now,” the report notes; the U.S. has only conducted approximately 22 million tests in total over the past month, according to the Covid Tracking Project.
Testing capacity is increasing, with the report noting there are expected to be approximately 70 million point-of-care tests per month available by October and approximately 200 million available by January.
The White House has recently purchased 150 million rapid tests, which are expected to largely be directed towards schools and nursing homes, but came under fire for reportedly pressuring the CDC to change its guidelines to say asymptomatic people who have been exposed to Covid-19 do not need to be tested—despite the fact that 30 to 60% of transmission comes from asymptomatic carriers.
The Washington Post reports the White House “has not significantly ramped up spending on testing” outside of nursing homes, “despite persistent shortages,” though the Duke University report notes that if there isn’t an adequate federal response to address the testing shortage, “continued leadership from states, local governments, and the private sector can help achieve these needed changes.”
83,358,107. That’s the total number of Covid-19 tests that have been conducted as of Tuesday in the U.S. since the pandemic began, according to the Covid Tracking Project.
“The United States is at a critical point in the pandemic, facing many more months of the severe health and economic disruptions that go along with significant infection spread throughout the country—but now with the potential to avoid that outcome through the effective use of innovative, large-scale testing,” the report notes.
Experts have maintained that adequate Covid-19 testing is essential to containing the spread of the virus, but adequate testing has long been an issue since the start of the pandemic. Testing capacity was extremely limited in the early days of the pandemic, and while capacity has increased, there are still reports of issues like lengthy waits for test results. President Donald Trump has frequently criticized the expansion of Covid-19 testing and falsely blamed a surge in cases over the summer on increased testing, and his administration initially attempted to block additional funding for tests in the next stimulus package. The new report of the importance of testing in schools also comes as school reopenings have become a major source of Covid-19 infections; numerous schools and universities are already facing large outbreaks, and some have shifted back to remote learning.