Is the rise in U.S. COVID-19 cases because of testing? It’s not that simple, doctors say

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President Trump has repeatedly claimed that the rise in coronavirus cases in the United States is because of more widespread testing. He said so again in a “60 Minutes” interview that aired Sunday. But doctors say the data show that’s not the full story.

“I don’t think we can explain it all away as simply just saying, well, we’re doing more testing,” Dr. Ron Elfenbein, an emergency care physician in Maryland, said on CBSN Monday. 

While testing more people does identify more cases, rates of positive tests are rising even faster. Experts say the surging numbers being seen in many states are due to an actual increase in illnesses, and hospitals are filling up with COVID-19 patients.

“What is really going on is a lot more infections, and we can see that in the fact that hospitalizations and deaths are also climbing. More testing wouldn’t explain that,” Dr. Ashish Jha, the dean of the Brown University School of Public Health, said on “CBS This Morning” Monday. He noted that while testing in the U.S. has increased significantly since April and May, over the past month to six weeks testing has been “reasonably flat” or up just a little. 

Average deaths per day across the country are up 10% over the past two weeks, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. Confirmed infections per day are rising in 47 states, and deaths are up in 34 states.


Doctor on rising U.S. COVID-19 cases

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The number of people tested for the virus has been around 1 million per day over the past month, according to the COVID Tracking Project. A Johns Hopkins analysis of cases, testing rates and positivity rates by state shows that in more than 20 states, cases are rising while testing has remained the same or even decreased. 

Since the pandemic began, there have been more than 8.6 million confirmed infections in the U.S. and over 225,000 Americans have died, the highest such totals anywhere in the world. The true number of infections is also thought to be far higher because many Americans have not been tested, and studies have shown that people can be infected without feeling sick.

Many experts have warned that the current increase in cases will only get worse as the weather turns cold and people spend more time gathered indoors, where the virus spreads more easily. Inconsistent mask wearing is also a concern. Health experts have stressed for months that wearing masks can help slow the spread. In fact, a study published last week projected that nearly 130,000 lives in the U.S. could be saved this fall and winter if nearly all Americans would wear masks.

“We’re at a dangerous tipping point right now,” Dr. Scott Gottlieb, the former head of the Food and Drug Administration, said on “Face the Nation” Sunday. “We’re entering what’s going to be the steep slope of the curve, of the epidemic curve. We know what that looks like from the spring, we know what it looks like from this summer.”

Gottlieb said there is an opportunity “to take some forceful steps to try to abate the spread.”

“Masks are one thing that we could be doing. We need to look at targeted mitigation, starting to close congregate settings where we know spread is happening,” he said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.



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