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  • Researchers at the Harvard Global Health Institute say the US needs to conduct 900,000 tests a day by May 15 to even think about slowly reopening the economy.
  • The US is currently conducting around 250,000 COVID-19 tests a day, up from 150,000 in mid-April.
  • Four states that are already reopening — Florida, Georgia, Texas, and Colorado — are not conducting the bare minimum number of tests necessary to safely do so, researchers say.
  • “Ultimately, I am deeply worried that four, six, eight weeks down the road we’re going to find ourselves in the exact same place we were in in early March, and we will have to shut the economy down again,” Dr. Ashish Jha, director of the Harvard Global Health Institute, said in a statement.

The US has just over a week to increase its daily coronavirus testing capacity by nearly 400%, at a minimum, if states wish to proceed with a relaxation of physical distancing requirements, according to new data from researchers at Harvard University.

“As of this week, national testing is still stalled at around 250,000 daily tests,” the Harvard Global Health Institute reported Thursday. That’s up from 150,000 COVID-19 tests a day in mid-April — but still half of what the institute deemed necessary two weeks ago. 

The country is falling behind, the institute declared, even as some states are beginning to reopen. “According to our updated calculations,” it said in a new report, “we will need upwards of 900,000 daily tests nationally by May 15.”

The increase in recommended tests “is due to a growing consensus among experts that the US is faring worse in this outbreak than previously thought,” the institute said in a May 7 statement. Indeed, “unlike in many other nations, new cases are only very slowly decreasing and death rates have plateaued at around 1,800 each day.”

By testing more people more frequently, states can better isolate infected persons and trace their contact with others. Those states that plow ahead with a return to the pre-pandemic business as usual, without ramping up testing capacity, risk an abrupt return to a shut down state.

Four states that are already beginning to reopen, according to the researchers, are not conducting the bare minimum number of tests required to do so: Florida, Georgia, Texas, and Colorado.

“Ultimately, I am deeply worried that four, six, eight weeks down the road we’re going to find ourselves in the exact same place we were in early March, and we will have to shut the economy down again,” Dr. Ashish Jha, director of the Harvard Global Health Institute, said in a statement.

Only nine states are meeting the floor, and most are large and relatively unpopulated: Alaska, Hawaii, Montana, North Dakota, Wyoming, West Virginia, Oregon, Tennessee, and Utah.

“For states that look like they’re meeting their testing goals,” Jha said, “I wouldn’t take that as too much comfort, because the number of cases will start going up. This is not the goal you want to hit and then say, ‘Ok, good, we’re done.’ This is the goal you want to hit and say, ‘Ok, now we can start.'”

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