The website covidtracking.com—started by two reporters from The Atlantic—reports a startling statistic. Of the more than 59,687 pending Covid-19 tests in the United States, 59,100 of them are in California. This represents 99 percent of all pending tests nationally. It’s not because California is conducting more tests but because its tests are not being completed. Over the past seven days, the state has reported results for less than 13,000 tests, while the rest of the country finished close to 720,000.
Even if tests get completed, they are not reported and tracked. Until yesterday, Covidtracking.com was using a county health website for some statewide data because, in its words, “The state has been inconsistent in its timing of reporting.” On the night of March 29, the official state Covid-19 webpage had not been updated for over 48 hours. This is not encouraging performance during an epidemic.
I know someone who has been waiting more than 15 days to get test results. Two members of my family who exhibited Covid-like symptoms and were tested just received results, twelve days later. They were told that it would take five to six days.
The reason for this backlog is not clear, but it is surprising, given California’s leadership in biotech. Three of the Top Ten biopharma clusters in the country are in the Golden State.
South Korea showed that widespread testing to identify potential carriers is one of the most successful ways of combating the Covid epidemic. By the end of last week, the United States had finally reached South Korean levels of testing per capita, with over 100,000 tests per day. But California lags the rest of the nation. The state’s immediate public-health situation is not as dire as elsewhere—with twice New York State’s population, California has one-tenth as many deaths and hospitalizations—but its inability to complete testing efficiently raises the specter of a future intensification of the disease’s spread that could be avoided.
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