The US tested the wrong people for coronavirus

May 23, 2020
3 625 875 Views

And you can tell because of a number called the test positivity rate.
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As the rate of new coronavirus cases in the US slows down, many states and cities there are encouraging businesses to open again, easing the lockdowns that have been in place since March. But public health experts warn that in many of those places, opening up is premature.
The reason is that throughout the US, as well as in many other countries, we still don’t really know how many people have the virus, or where they are. That’s dangerous because it means infected people who don’t feel sick are probably mingling with the rest of the population, which could enable further outbreaks. And the only way to really prevent that is by proactively testing people for covid-19 until the people who have it have been tracked down and isolated.
The US started testing its population for covid-19 very slowly, but it’s since ramped testing up, and by early May was performing over 200,000 tests a day. Unfortunately, there’s no magic number of tests that is “enough” to contain an outbreak. The important thing is to test the right people - and to evaluate whether that’s happening, public health officials recommend looking at a different number: The percentage of tests coming back positive. It’s called the test positivity rate.
Note: The headline on this piece has been updated.
Previous headline: What the US needs to do to open up safely
In a previous version of this video, the circles in the infographic at 5:50 and 6:20 were incorrectly sized. The error has been corrected.
Our World in Data is a reliable source for country-by-country covid-19 data:
Our World in Data also has weekly-rolling test-positivity rate data which gives a better snapshot of where countries are currently at:
We based our state test-positivity rates on this May 6 Harvard Global Health Institute and NPR analysis:
The Atlantic’s coverage of the importance of test-positivity rates:
An important disclaimer on potential inflation in testing numbers at the national and state level in the US: is a news website that helps you cut through the noise and understand what's really driving the events in the headlines. Check out
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  • How does this 10% or less theory works if a majority of people are infected? Then no matter how much you test the TPR will always be above 10%!

    akash jhaakash jha23 minutes ago
  • New Zealand :

    XayXay3 hours ago
  • Bill Gates: there will be a pandemic we didnt prepare for it we prepared for a war 2020:Covid 19 Me:who are you who are so wise in the ways of science

    PhilippineGamer PlaysPhilippineGamer Plays6 hours ago
  • I mean, the US says they are first... first with most cases in the world by country -_-

    Lurky BoioLurky Boio9 hours ago
  • What’s the worse thing you can say to someone in 2020? *stay positive*

    Téanna AngTéanna AngDay ago
  • My mother-in-law, who I live with, is sick but there are no tests in the area to confirm she has Covid-19. Her friend who she was in contact with, just died of Covid-19. My doctor told me that I can go back to work despite likely having the virus myself.

    Jared MorenoJared MorenoDay ago
  • If you can't fit the problem in a Twitter tweet, Trump probably can't read it.

    Tam NguyenTam NguyenDay ago
  • New York it’s amazing that in May it was over ten percent, now they are under one percent.

    John SlyfieldJohn Slyfield2 days ago
  • South Korea is also the size of like New Jersey

    Alfie SolomonAlfie Solomon2 days ago

    richard kleginrichard klegin2 days ago
  • were heading to wave two , and the second is going to be worse

    richard kleginrichard klegin2 days ago
  • its the end of the world .

    richard kleginrichard klegin2 days ago
  • What is the use of a nuclear weapons and aircraft carriers, if the population of a country cannot follow simple rules of stopping a virus?

    daniel jonesdaniel jones2 days ago
  • Is a country still a super power if it cannot follow simple rules to stop a virus?

    daniel jonesdaniel jones2 days ago
  • Why is America behaving and being governed like a Developing Country?

    daniel jonesdaniel jones2 days ago
  • South Korean population - 51 million American population - 300 million 😒

    rogue waderogue wade2 days ago
  • But why US didnt conduct a mass testing in the first place? Here in Seoul ( South Korea ) by late January 2020 there were many, many testing facilities literally on every streets. All free.

    Sumida RyogokuSumida Ryogoku3 days ago
  • India was shown in list of countries that tested correctly.. funny where it lies in list of those infected with virus..

    Tathagat ChatterjeeTathagat Chatterjee3 days ago
  • Why America has the Problems, America has a lot of People, who are sick cause of the System, its Not in Canada, its not in Germany 😉

    Thomas PeikerThomas Peiker3 days ago
  • 2:26 That's 9.09%

    Ani GAni G3 days ago
  • Republicans are the problem. Full stop.

    Calder WishneCalder Wishne3 days ago
  • 2:25 Actually, that's 9% (1/11)

    orventroorventro3 days ago
  • Is this a joke I am to Canadian to understand?

    Larry SteveLarry Steve3 days ago
  • I usually think having things privatised by the government is bad but healthcare should be privatised and be free to everyone in the country, how many people in the US are suffering from medical bills. Most homeless in other countries is from drugs or mental health but in the Us it’s medical bills. Having it privatised will also help stopping corona cuz trump will try and stop the virus if it is affecting him and his economy nothing else will make him care!

    Oly BOly B4 days ago
  • Great content, as always!

    E R GallentineE R Gallentine4 days ago
  • Why would one downvote a purely informative video is beyond me.

    Petitio PrincipiiPetitio Principii4 days ago
  • Less tests means less cases. According to the President.

    Ray MakRay Mak4 days ago
    • Didn't he say the more you test the more you are going to find positive results.

      Immaculate Organic SoapsImmaculate Organic SoapsDay ago
  • This didn't age well for Arizona at the end

    ReefNRodReefNRod4 days ago
  • Man...the comment threads did not aged well for the USA.

    myown lilbubblemyown lilbubble5 days ago
  • movies: america saves the world irl: america dies

    Ironic CookiesIronic Cookies5 days ago
    • That's Hollywood, brainwashing Americans to think they and their country are some heroes that they aren't irl

      HighGroundHighGroundDay ago
  • Colorado is covering up their actual deaths as 6 ppl i know here died from the virus in one day and Colorado's death count did not rise at all that day, their covering up that they slowed testing down and even turned my mother away , and she turned out to test positive later she got the virus from me, we both almost died, haven't been tested since, forced back to work within 3 weeks of catching yhe virus, just because i have no way to get the test again

    DarkEyezDarkEyez5 days ago
  • There is not any place to get the test for over an hour on wheels and tons of workers here dont have a car lole myself, theres over 600 workers here and i know most of them after a survey we found the casino workers here were stripped of unemployment even high risk people and people over 70 years old, we were told being high risk is not enough and if we turn down our jobs who reopened a month ago we will loose all income

    DarkEyezDarkEyez5 days ago
  • In blackhawk and central city Colorado none of the casino workers forced to come back have been tested

    DarkEyezDarkEyez5 days ago
  • Is there even contact tracing in the us? Here in Asia, all i hear is contact tracing but i have not heard this term used in the US.

    Jason YipJason Yip5 days ago
    • My state of Oregon had a goal of least 600 contact tracers by mid-May; currently, our Positive test rate is 6.3% up from 1.7% at the end of May about when we started to reopen the state

      AdamAdam4 days ago
  • I don't understand any of these videos

    jonny pepperstonjonny pepperston6 days ago
  • "10 negative tests to 1 positive test" is 9%, not 10%. (10 negative + 1 positive = 11 tests. 1 positive / 11 tests = 9.09...%) So did that guy take "10%" and say it wrong, or has the video taken "10 to 1" and done a super common math-o. I think the thing to say which is both correct and wouldn't confuse people is to say "... that means less than 10%"

    CodeKujoCodeKujo6 days ago
  • its not that we didn't test the right people but didn't test enough

    rtswiftrtswift6 days ago
  • 🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣

    Gia PacellaGia Pacella6 days ago
  • As a Vietnamese citizen, seeing all these videos on the internet trying to explain to the US how to contain the outbreak, when our country's been doing all that way ahead of them. Just sad.

    AlanNguyen2810AlanNguyen28106 days ago
  • My brother has had breathing issues for 3 months but since he has not history of respiratory issues they won’t test him...

    Timothy TateTimothy Tate6 days ago
  • If someone has symptoms already, is the test necessary? Stopping the spread of the virus was the goal of the lock down. Shouldn't the test have the same goal?

    • No, testing should be used to catch the asymptomatic, not those who have symptoms. That way we can catch those who have the virus, and slow the spread.

      AutumnAutumn5 days ago
  • It is the reason why to wear a mask in order to protect myself and others.

    Hanbyul KangHanbyul Kang7 days ago
  • A little more time and India will be on top. This will a proud moment for all patriots of the great nation. Feeling patriotic, might vote the guy who's literally ruining everything back to power again.

    rishavrishav7 days ago
  • It so amazing to see that rapid drop in pneumonia deaths and flu deaths.... now they are putting COVID in its place to place fear in us.

    Carlos LehderCarlos Lehder7 days ago
    • First of all Covid causes Pneumonia .The flu season is gone since February. Wait till the fall when we will have both Covid and the flu together. The party will be a lot worse.

      George SaadGeorge Saad5 days ago
  • If Trump gets voted for a 2nd term, y’all Americans are just straight up masochists 🤣

    R LR L7 days ago
  • @vox "10 negative tests to 1 positive" is not a 10% positive rate. it is 1/11 = a 9.1% rate.

    Stefanos TaiStefanos Tai7 days ago
  • And there is me as a VietNamese going to school everyday without wearing a mask cuz we are so done with covid 19

    Mieny HobiMieny Hobi8 days ago
  • Australia didn't test alot of people. The government told us not to get tested unless we have sevre cases 😢

    케빈스Woozy Witanuzi케빈스Woozy Witanuzi8 days ago
  • Why is there people wearing a bikini in the park?

    M. SamiM. Sami8 days ago
  • If governors closed up and do what they need to do this wood not have happen so bad in America but they tryed to take rights away and treat the Americans bad but let other just do as they want

    randy tabronrandy tabron9 days ago
  • They should've done contact tracing. To backtrack and isolate

    Thành Vinh Nguyên TôThành Vinh Nguyên Tô9 days ago
  • Here in the us there is a plethora of anti vax and anti mask people. Along with entitled Karen’s who can’t handle an inconvenience

    EGANEGAN9 days ago
    • They just gonna kick the can down and drag dead weight

      PhilippineGamer PlaysPhilippineGamer Plays6 hours ago
  • if the US is poorly testing, imagine what they would say about brazil!!!!

    Chave na ignição - Victor NezziChave na ignição - Victor Nezzi10 days ago
  • MINOR CORRECTION: 2:26 that's not 10% it's actually closer to 9 as '10 to 1' implies 1 person out of every 11

    TomannaTomanna10 days ago
  • Who disliked this? Knowledge is power. Stay ignorant, keep infecting people....

    Carina RaymondCarina Raymond11 days ago
    • You know that exactly what I was think 🤦🏻‍♀️ how are you disliking a video to keep you informed 😒

      samanthajoy1samanthajoy14 days ago
    • Yeah right, infect people with misinformation

      Mohamed AbdullahiMohamed Abdullahi9 days ago
  • US is the poorest 1st world country

    alfonso daculloalfonso dacullo11 days ago
  • Why does Vox sound so horribly pretentious and hubristic?

    ThreeThingsThreeThings11 days ago
  • My concern is the testing process. Testers use the same gloves to test everyone. Infected and non infected putting their hands directly into the location of the virus!!!!!Wouldn’t that alone spread the virus??????

    Irene StolzIrene Stolz11 days ago
  • Here we are again.

    N PakN Pak11 days ago
  • Testing costs money. Capitalism and a private healthcare insurance system cannot make a profit by doing mass testing. Thus, welcome to America.

    loucious22loucious2213 days ago
  • Meanwhile Brazil : there won't be any cases if we don't test

    Vaibhav ThalankiVaibhav Thalanki13 days ago
  • Good for the country of Taiwan, great healthcare.

    Chun-Yu ChenChun-Yu Chen13 days ago
  • You should see Florida, Texas and Arizona now. Also, why can't the administration just follow the lead of Vox? Sorry to say but America is lost

    TV Streaming NewsTV Streaming News14 days ago
  • A month later... The expected happened and cases rose again

    LunetaLuneta14 days ago
  • 😐

    AutumnAutumn15 days ago
  • Bro the testing in South Korea on how they test people reminds me the South Korean movie (The flu)

    DahDaniel DudeDahDaniel Dude15 days ago
  • So right! The people in high places making all the decisions for everyone else's lives just don't even get's just simple math and logic....shame on NJ Governor Murphy promising that anyone could be tested that wanted to be tested....not true if you're someone not showing symptoms!

    Suzanne ConwaySuzanne Conway16 days ago
  • North Korea has the best solution. He just shot his first case and the few next.

    X Æ A-12X Æ A-1216 days ago
  • We have a virus we can not get rid of and it seems as though people can be reinfected.

    S HS H16 days ago
  • Flattened the wrong curve..

    Dhanraj TolarDhanraj Tolar16 days ago
  • I remember the Ebola outbreak.. Americans were flipping out and it wasn’t even in our country. They brought it to our country to save them.. Trump supporters think this is a scam by the Democrats

    Lavender SkyLavender Sky17 days ago
  • Meanwhile indonesia is purging itself...

    Aldi IbrahimAldi Ibrahim17 days ago
  • Isn't this just common sense

    Carlos DiazCarlos Diaz17 days ago
  • How do you say the U.S. tested the people they tested the one's that matter to them.

    MAE GaryMAE Gary17 days ago
  • That’s just common sense. If you are sick there’s more likely to have the virus. So test people who show no symptoms to make sure they are not carrying the virus. Duh 🙄

    Gilbert FloresGilbert Flores18 days ago
  • In India 80 percent of cases are no symptoms and India is not testing them

    oishhdf oijoishhdf oij18 days ago
  • Why did US don't have enough test kids? Is it too expensive? Is it because we can't make enough? Is it because we tested only the rich people? Why can't we test 1 million a day?

    William ChaoWilliam Chao18 days ago
  • 10 negative tests to 1 positive test is not 10%. That would put it at 1/11 tests being positive, a 9.1% test positivity rate. But claims it's 10% because it's easier

    Simon StockwellSimon Stockwell18 days ago
  • Or just use Trump's logic. If we did no testing we wouldn't have any cases.

    William Marshall IIWilliam Marshall II19 days ago
  • Omg I am from india and here the situation is getting worse....

    Mansi BishtMansi Bisht20 days ago