Did we really flatten the curve?

Or is testing just flat?

I’ve written a lot about coronavirus (along with literally everyone else) but have slowed down on the topic compared to January and February. Reason being, it’s hard to say something that hasn’t been said before.

Early on, with everything being so new, it was easy to write almost anything and have it be insightful to some degree. Now, it’s harder to find material new developments.

That is, until I looked at a time series of testing data:

Unless you’ve been living under a rock (which would be good for quarantining!), you’ve probably heard “flattening the curve” anywhere from a few thousand to a few million times already. Looking at the number of new cases per day (the dark line) in the US, it really does seem that we have flattened the spread of the infection.

But then I plotted it against the number of tests performed each day (the lighter line) and the correlation honestly shocked me.

Now, one would obviously expect a relationship. Tests happen first and then the results come back positive or negative. And, a general rule of thumb based on the testing data is that one in five individuals will come back positive. In fact, this has been a very stable ratio. My question from this then becomes, have we really flattened the curve? Or, have we merely flattened our testing?

In an ideal scenario, testing would ramp consistently. Then, the ratio of positives to total tests would fall if the virus spreads more slowly than the testing capacity increases. But, in reality, we are either at some capacity in regards to our ability to test or (for a reason I can’t quite think of) we just so happened to have had right around 150,000 people looking to get tested every day for the last three weeks. Because the spread of a virus is not linear, I doubt it is exactly the same number of people getting sick and seeking testing each day. So, it leads me to believe there is some capacity issue.

This is a major problem because it means we don’t have an accurate view of what the virus is doing. Answering whether we are flattening the curve doesn’t seem as clear cut to me anymore because of this flat testing data. That uncertainty makes me less sure of when things will get back to “normal.”

I do hope we see less new confirmed cases as time goes on. And, I hope it happens in conjunction with an increase of testing. That would give us more confidence that we are moving in the right direction. But, for now, I guess this is as clear of a picture as we have. Unfortunately, with something that is quite literally life or death, that just doesn’t seem like it’s enough.


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