Alarming drop in COVID-19 tests worldwide

Testing for COVID-19 has fallen sharply around the world, making it harder for scientists to keep up with the pandemic and detect new mutations.

Experts say testing dropped 70% to 90% globally between the first and second quarters of the year. They indicate that the opposite should be happening due to the increase in infections of variants such as the omicron in the United States and South Africa.

“We’re not doing nearly as much testing as we should be doing,” said Dr. Krishna Udayakumar, who directs the Global Center for Innovations in Health at Duke University. “We need to be in a position to do more tests when we see the appearance of new waves (of infections) to know what is happening” and respond accordingly.

In the United States, for example, an average of 73,633 cases are registered daily, 40% more than two weeks ago, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

But that count is far below the real one because not enough testing is done and many take place at home and are not reported. Experts from the University of Washington in Seattle estimate that only 13% of cases are reported to health authorities. This would imply that there would be half a million infected per day.

The drop in the number of tests is a worldwide phenomenon, but especially high in developing nations, according to Udayakumar. The number of tests per 1,000 people in high-income countries is 96 times higher than in low-income nations, according to the Geneva-based nonprofit FIND.

What is this drop in tests? Experts speak of a fatigue with COVID, a decrease in infections after the first wave of the omicron and the feeling of the poorest sectors that there is no point in getting tested if they do not have access to antiviral medicines.

At a recent World Health Organization briefing, FIND CEO Bill Rodriguez said testing is “the first casualty of the global decision to let down our guard” and warned that “we are not seeing what happens with the virus ”.

The tests, the genomic sequence and an in-depth study of the outbreaks can lead to the discovery of new variants. New York state health authorities found a super contagious variant, BA.2.12.1, when investigating higher averages in the center of the state.

Looking ahead, “we are not going to be able to detect the emergence of new variants as we did in the past,” Rodríguez told the Associated Press.

Experts are concerned about the steep drop in testing after the first appearance of the omicron, the low levels of testing globally, and the inability to reliably track cases. While home testing is convenient, only laboratory tests are good at detecting variants.

Home tests, on the other hand, are almost invisible because no one reports them.

Mara Aspinall, executive director of an Arizona consultancy that studies trends in COVID-19 testing, said there are currently four in-house tests for every one PCR test, “and we get virtually no in-house testing information. House”.

Reva Seville, 36, of Los Angeles, took a test at home this week after experiencing symptoms including a sore throat, cough and congestion. The test came back positive, so she had two more tests, just to be sure. But since the symptoms were mild, she did not see a doctor or report the positive.

Dr. Udayakumar said it is important that testing in low-income countries is increased. He argued that the demand for testing would increase if access to antivirals is improved.

George Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association, said there will come a time when widespread testing for COVID-19 is suspended, but that time has not come.

With an unrelenting pandemic and a virus still unpredictable, “not caring about individual health is unacceptable,” he said. “You have to worry about the population.”


Bobby Caina Calvan (New York) and Carla K. Johnson (Seattle) contributed to this report.


The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for the content.

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