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August 17, 2020 -- The number of daily COVID-19 tests has dropped nationwide during the past two weeks, which has prompted public health officials to express concerns about the spread of the coronavirus.

States in the South and West that were recent hotspots — such as Florida, Texas and Mississippi — have seen declines in the average number of daily tests, according to USA Today. At the same time, the percentage of positive tests has increased.

“The enhanced positivity rate is the thing that bothers people more than anything else,” William Schaffner, MD, an infectious disease specialist at Vanderbilt University, told the newspaper. “Because it suggests this virus is circulating still very briskly, especially in certain parts of the country — in fact, much of the country.”

During the last two weeks of July, the average number of daily tests was 793,000 nationwide, according to the COVID Tracking Project, which dropped under 650,000 tests per day during the first two weeks of August.

In the last week, positivity rates have increased in 35 states, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. A dozen states are above 10%.

In Texas, the average climbed to a high of 24.5% during the first week of August before falling to 12% on Friday, according to the Austin American-Statesman. On Thursday, Gov. Greg Abbott said state health officials would investigate the drop in testing and high positivity rate.

“We do need to see the positivity rate go back below 10% for a sustained period of time,” he told reporters.

Several factors may contribute to the drop in testing numbers, USA Today reported. Demand has decreased, perhaps because of long testing lines in July or the long turnaround time for results. COVID-19 “fatigue” and skepticism have also set in. In addition, people may not know if they’re eligible for a test or may believe they don’t need a test. Some communities and rural areas may also lack access to testing options.

“If we had more testing, I think we’d find more cases, find more people who are genuinely sick and many who have only minimal symptoms, documenting that this is a virus that truly is circulating in rural communities, as all of us think it is,” Schaffner told the newspaper.

WebMD Health News Brief

Sources

USA Today, “Testing slowdown: Fewer coronavirus tests casts doubt on falling case counts.”

COVID Tracking Project, “National overview.”

Johns Hopkins University, “Have states flattened the curve?”

Austin American-Statesman, “Abbott: Texas health officials investigating high coronavirus positivity rate.”

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