‘We Need to Do Better’: Pennsylvania Has Only Tested 10% of the Population for COVID-19 So Far

Nasal swab coronavirus testing kits sit on a table during a tour of a new temporary coronavirus testing site Monday, Aug. 3, 2020, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)

By Patrick deHahn

August 7, 2020

Gov. Wolf said on Thursday the state’s testing is “below average” and told reporters “we need to do better.”

As testing in almost half of the country has decreased in the backdrop of a climbing national death rate, Gov. Tom Wolf has promised to expand COVID-19 testing for Pennsylvania residents. 

“If we want to mitigate the spread of this very contagious virus, we must continue to understand how it’s impacting Pennsylvania,” Wolf said in a statement. “Most importantly, improving access to testing helps Pennsylvanians who want and need to test for COVID-19.”

During a news conference Thursday, Secretary of Health Rachel Levine admitted that Pennsylvania is ninth in the nation in terms of tests completed, but “we’re somewhat less in terms of per capita.” Wolf also said the state’s testing is “below average” and told reporters “we need to do better.”

His administration announced efforts to ramp up testing services across the state, including nine new Walmart drive-thru testing locations that opened Wednesday. The health department is also in talks with laboratories within the state, particularly Quest Diagnostics, on how to expedite results. 

Testing is not only needed for individuals to know whether they’ve been infected by the novel coronavirus, but it also helps regions and communities track and control further spread. An effective testing system would let those who test positive get results quickly and quarantine immediately. 

“Testing also provides us with critical data to understand where the disease is in our communities so that we can take the necessary proactive measures to stop the spread and continue to protect the public,” Wolf said.

The state’s track record in testing has lagged behind the rest of the country throughout the pandemic. Pennsylvania just reached a milestone where approximately 10% of its population has been tested for COVID-19, according to a Johns Hopkins University database. That makes it rank after three states (Colorado, Wyoming, and Hawaii) for the worst testing capabilities in the U.S. 

The Wolf administration said that more than 1.6 million tests have been completed since the pandemic began, which equates to 13% of Pennsylvania’s population. Comparing the number of tests with the number of people tested isn’t the best science, however, since people can get tested multiple times. 

Struggling to provide every American citizen reliable and speedy testing is cause for concern as the U.S. notches an increase in positive test results this week: The Associated Press found a 3.6% decrease in state testing capabilities across the nation. This is happening as the U.S. sees more than 1,000 deaths per day. 

The Trump administration continues to avoid implementing a national testing strategy, including closing federally run and funded COVID testing sites (where one was operating in Pennsylvania) and blocking billions of dollars to support testing expansion in the coronavirus relief bill. 

Meanwhile, presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden has promised widespread free rapid testing for all Americans. According to the campaign, Biden would establish at least 10 mobile testing sites and drive-through facilities per state, amend the Public Health Service Act to immediately cover all testing and other treatment, and expand surveillance programs “so that we can offer tests not only only to those who ask but also to those who may not know to ask.”


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