How Many COVID-19 Tests Are ‘Needed’ to Reopen?

The Trump administration has repeatedly claimed that there are enough COVID-19 tests for states to begin reopening their economies. While that may be true for select locations, experts say more tests are needed, even if they don’t agree on a particular number.

In the past couple of weeks, President Donald Trump and other members of the coronavirus task force have insisted that there are adequate levels of diagnostic testing for the coronavirus to allow states to lift stay-at-home orders and restart some businesses.

“We are continuing to rapidly expand our capacity and confident that we have enough testing to begin reopening,” Trump said in an April 27 briefing, adding, “And the testing is not going to be a problem at all. In fact, it’s going to be one of the great assets that we have.”

In the same briefing, Vice President Mike Pence said, “[W]e have a sufficient amount of testing today for every state that qualifies to enter phase one to begin to reopen their economies.” Phase one refers to the first part of the White House’s plan for a gradual return to quasi-normal life, which allows gyms, restaurants and movie theaters, for example, to open under continued social distancing, but for schools to remain closed and workplaces to encourage telework where possible.

The vice president’s office did not explain which metrics Pence and others were using to make that determination, so it’s hard to fully evaluate his statement. But while some places may have enough tests, multiple scientists told us that as a whole, the U.S. still lags behind what’s needed to execute an effective strategy to rein in outbreaks.

“Testing is still limited,” Michael Mina, an epidemiologist at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, told us in response to Pence’s statement. 

“If you’re not including testing as a large part of phase one opening, then sure, we have plenty of tests,” he said. “But I think most of us who are working on thinking about what are the safest and best ways to open up the

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