New Orleans, she said, was near what states would want to hit: 30 tests per 1,000 residents in a month. Based on the capacity in each state, only three states weren’t able to hit that level, she said: Oregon, Maine and Montana. She presented a map of the monthly testing capacity of each state, offering ranges from under 100,000 to more than a million.
That map was apparently aspirational, at least in terms of what has actually been done. Data from the COVID Tracking Project indicate that, ten days later, none of the “Tier 1” states — California, Florida, New York or Texas — has completed a million tests in total, much less in the last month.
There has been a marked increase in completed tests in recent days, which is good news. But data still suggest that few states are conducting 30 tests per 1,000 residents at this point. Nor are most conducting 20 tests per 1,000 residents — a measure of 2 percent of the population that the White House reportedly told state governors on Monday that it would work to ensure that states could reach.
It’s a bit tricky to parse the state-level data because reporting gaps can throw off week-over-week measures. If we look at the three-day average of completed tests, there are 11 states that have exceeded 30 tests per 1,000 residents in the most recent three-day average, plus Washington, D.C. Another 13 states are at or exceed 20 tests per 1,000 residents. The other 26 states are conducting fewer than 20 tests per 1,000.
Again, that’s an improvement from a week ago. Then, only eight states were over the 20-tests-per-1,000 mark, including five that were over 30. (Change from the prior week is marked with a line.)
But the current data also indicate that most states are still conducting fewer tests than Birx suggested was within their capacity 10 days ago. Twenty states are conducting as many tests on average at this point as Birx’s map would have suggested. Only one state, West Virginia, is exceeding the number of tests the White House set as the upper level of its capacity.
(The math here is tricky, so I’ll walk through it quickly. From April 24 to 26, West Virginia has conducted an average of about 3,700 tests. That’s up from the 3-day average from April 17 to 19 of 575 tests. Over 30 days, then, we’d expect the state to conduct 111,000 tests. On April 17, Birx estimated its monthly capacity at no more than 100,000 tests monthly.)
In a document prepared for Monday’s announcement, obtained by Axios, the White House indicated that every state could now meet a goal of 20 tests per 1,000 residents by a wide margin.
Again, this is capacity. Limits on material for conducting tests, like reagents for processing samples, have meant fewer tests can be conducted. The White House plan is reportedly to ensure sufficient material for conducting enough tests to hit the 20-per-1,000 mark — but not the 30 Birx mentioned earlier in the month.
Twenty tests per 1,000 is probably not sufficient in many places. Stat, a health-care-focused news service, conducted its own assessment with researchers from Harvard of the number of tests each state would need to be conducting by May 1 to track potential outbreaks. That assessment was based not on population but on the actual spread of the virus. Nonetheless, many states are far from the estimated targets — including states like Georgia, which has already actively begun scaling back social distancing efforts. Georgia would need to more than double its testing, according to Stat’s analysis.
On the reported target being presented on Monday by the White House as the baseline it wants to help them hit, though, Georgia’s ready. In the past three days, it’s been testing at a rate equal to 20.9 tests per 1,000 residents each month. That’s about 70 percent of the capacity Birx said they would aim for on April 17.
According to The Washington Post’s Josh Dawsey, the gap states might face between what they can and what they should do to track outbreaks will be up to the states to fill. That burden-shifting doesn’t mark a significant change for the White House.