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Infographic – U.S. Covid-19 Tests, Backlog Grow

Covid-19 tests and backlog

Data: Covid Tracking Project. Click on image for full-size view.

28 Mar. 2020. Late yesterday, the Food and Drug Administration gave an emergency clearance to a fast, point-of-care test for Covid-19 infection, a test that’s badly needed. This weekend’s infographic shows the number of new Covid-19 tests per day in the U.S. now exceeds 100,000, but the backlog of tests awaiting results has grown with it.

Data from the chart come from The Covid Tracking Project, a volunteer effort that collects testing data from U.S. state and territorial health authorities and compiles them in a spreadsheet each day. Since early March, the number of new tests each day grew from a few hundred to now more than 100,000 per day in the last three days, up sharply from just a few days earlier.

However, the number of pending tests, those still awaiting results, has grown right with it, now exceeding 60,000 tests. Those numbers suggest more test kits are reaching health care providers, but the analytical capacity is not growing with it. In most cases today, nose and throat swabs taken by clinicians must be sent off to remote labs for analysis to detect the RNA signatures in the specimens. As a result, the backlog in delivering test results is climbing, just as more people are getting tested. Anecdotal reports tell of waiting times for results as long as a week.

The Covid-19 test cleared yesterday by FDA is made by Abbot Diagnostics, which the company says can return a positive result in as little as five minutes, with negative results taking 13 minutes. While the test still requires separate RNA analysis — it’s not like a home pregnancy test that gives instant results — the analytical station is small and portable, and can be moved to where patients are being tested.

To conduct widespread Covid-19 testing, of course, you need the people, protective gear, and supplies, such as swabs and reagents. All of those elements, unfortunately, are still in short supply. Without everything needed for testing in place, even the fastest tests can’t get done.

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