Is Twitter Becoming Better at Reporting COVID-19 Testing than the CDC?

Tynan Friend, HGHI | March 13, 2020

Numerous reports over the past weeks have circulated throughout the U.S detailing what many regard as severe shortcomings in the COVID-19 laboratory testing by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

In the absence of transparency, lawmakers and U.S. citizens have expressed concern and outrage at the lack of available and attainable testing for the novel coronavirus: “We are flying blind,” remarked Rep. Mike Quigley of Illinois this week, following a closed-door House briefing.

Free, widespread testing, such as that offered by South Korea and Australia, is the only way to properly identify and isolate individuals infected with the virus, in an effort to prevent community spread. Per the CDC website, only 3,791 tests have been administered at the federal level; and no tests performed by the CDC have occurred since Friday, March 6. Meanwhile, South Korea has been testing nearly 20,000 individuals each day for over a week—and is currently making enough tests each week for 1 million patients.

Why does this matter? While South Korea has identified over 7,800 infected people, the country’s death rate from confirmed COVID-19 cases is 0.7%. The average death rate of the new disease, according to WHO, is 3.4%. Although WHO’s figure is likely inflated due to global lack of testing and under-reporting, it is clear that widespread testing leads to faster isolation of sick patients, better containment of the virus, and better patient outcomes.

Though not comparable with the quantity seen in South Korea, public health labs around the United States have been using their limited resources to test suspected cases of COVID-19 in the ways that strict CDC guidelines allow. Wondering why the United States has not been testing more, many have taken to Twitter to express both their admiration for local efforts and frustration with the government’s slow response:

People across this Twitter thread and others noted that state-run drive-through testing clinics have been established in Duluth, San Francisco, Seattle, and Denver. “Testing is free,” @JoshuaPotash noted of the drive-through center in Denver, “but you need a doctor’s note… We need more, but this is a start.”

Trying to fill the widening information gap between the CDC and the public, people use these threads to report how many tests are actually being done at the state level. (The CDC only began reporting state-administered tests on Tuesday, and does so only at the aggregate level. It is unclear if these numbers are accurate).

Leading the charge in this regard is the University of Washington Virology account (@UWVirology), which has been reporting daily since March 7 on the quantity and results of their nationwide testing data.

Also helpful in testing data collection and dissemination is The COVID Tracking Project (@COVID19Tracking), with daily state-level data from around the country.

Their linked Google Drive folder is an excellent source of up-to-date information on the status of COVID-19 in the United States, from testing outcomes to local public health department contacts.

In unprecedented crises such as this one, the best course of action is often to rely upon experts for guidance. Dr. Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the NIH, is one of these experts. Here is what he has to say about the state of testing in the nation: