While the number of confirmed coronavirus cases in the US has now surpassed the grim three-million milestone, health officials believe as many as 30 million across the nation may have contracted the virus.
Despite the virus-hit nation ramping up its testing efforts, experts warn the system’s inadequacies coupled with unreported mild infections mean the known cases are simply the tip of the iceberg.
Centres for Disease Control and Prevention Director Robert Redfield warned last week the real total is about 10 times higher, or almost 10 per cent of the US population.
Four months and over 130,000 deaths into the coronavirus outbreak, Americans confronted with a resurgence of the scourge are facing long lines at testing sites in the summer heat or are getting turned away.
Others are going a week or more without receiving a diagnosis.
Shortage of testing kits in US
Some sites are running out of kits, while labs are reporting shortages of materials and workers to process the swabs.
Some frustrated Americans are now questioning the inaction of governments in the outbreak’s infancy especially after it was given fair warning as the virus wreaked havoc in China and then Italy, Spain and New York.
“It’s a hot mess,” 47-year-old Jennifer Hudson from Arizona, one of the worst hit states, said.
“The fact that we’re relying on companies and we don’t have a national response to this, it’s ridiculous.
“It’s keeping people who need tests from getting tests.”
It took Ms Hudson five days to make an appointment through a CVS pharmacy near her home.
She booked a drive-up test over the weekend, more than a week after her symptoms — fatigue, shortness of breath, headache and sore throat — first emerged.
The clinic informed her that her results would probably be delayed.
US lag in testing per capita an ‘abject failure’
Testing has been ramped up nationwide, reaching about 640,000 tests per day on average, up from about 518,000 two weeks ago, according to an Associated Press analysis.
Newly confirmed infections per day in the US are running at over 50,000, breaking records at practically every turn.
More testing tends to lead to more cases found. But in an alarming indicator, the percentage of tests coming back positive for the virus is on the rise across nearly the entire country, hitting almost 27 per cent in Arizona, 19 per cent in Florida and 17 per cent in South Carolina.
While the US has conducted more tests than any other nation, it ranks in the middle of the pack in testing per capita, behind Russia, Spain and Australia, according to Johns Hopkins University.
“I am stunned that as a nation, six months into this pandemic, we still can’t figure out how to deliver testing to the American people when they need it,” Dr Ashish Jha, director of Harvard’s Global Health Institute, said.
“It is an abject failure of leadership and shows that the federal government has not prioritised testing in a way that will allow us to get through this pandemic.”
Testing alone without adequate contact tracing and quarantine measures won’t control the spread of the scourge, according to health experts.
But they say delays in testing can lead to more infections by leaving people in the dark as to whether they need to isolate themselves.
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