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COVID-19 testing is declining. With new variants, experts say that could be concerning.

covid testing
Posted at 1:39 PM, Feb 12, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-12 13:39:23-05

Since November, the number of people getting COVID-19 tests has largely plateaued across the country, and recently, it has been declining in several states.

In January, daily tests were at an all-time high as they reached more than 2 million, but since, that number has fallen to around 1.5 million each day.

“When we see testing decline, we always start to worry that we’re starting to miss infections and that people might be walking around with the virus and not knowing it,” said Jennifer Nuzzo, a senior scholar with John’s Hopkins Center for Health Security. “There’s some evidence that the amount of infection in the U.S. is falling and that’s good news. And it does mean, likely, that there is fewer number of people who need to be tested.”

When testing was highest in January, the COVID-19 positivity rate, or percentage of tests that came back with a positive reading, was at 13.6 percent. That number has since dropped to 6.4 percent in recent weeks. Nuzzo says, however, that can be misleading and testing still needs to be prioritized.

“Testing remains critical for us to do surveillance to know how many people are getting sick and then to look at a subset of those people who test positive and see if they, in fact, were sick with the genetic variant or not,” said Nuzzo.

The U.K. variant of COVID-19 is the fasted-spreading in the country as a new study says the number of cases is doubling every 10 days. The variant, which seems to be about 40 percent to 70 percent more transmissible than previous forms of COVID-19, has "gained a strong foothold across the world," the authors wrote in a new pre-print study posted on medRxiv on February 7.

The study has yet to be peer-reviewed.

“We don’t yet know if the vaccines will prevent people from becoming infected, and we don’t know if they will prevent people from transmitting that infection to others, so it is still important for people to get tested because it will help us answer some of those questions,” said Nuzzo.