On Monday, during his daily press briefing on the COVID-19 outbreak, Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves was complimenting the state’s health officials on what a good job they had done getting people tested for the virus that causes the respiratory disease.
The numbers back up the praise.
Through Sunday, the state had tested more than 51,000 people. Based on population, that places Mississippi as the 14th-most-tested in the country and about 40% ahead of the national average. The states ahead of Mississippi are in places, such as the Northeast, where the new coronavirus arrived sooner and more virulently. In the Southeast, only one state, Louisiana, has a higher testing rate than Mississippi’s, but it had some help getting there from the federal government. Because the outbreak was so much worse in Louisiana, where the death rate is presently five times higher than Mississippi’s, it received emergency assistance that helped it rapidly expand its testing capabilities.
Mississippi’s ranking is good news, as widescale testing is essential to getting a handle on this pandemic and moving the economy back toward normalcy. People will only have full confidence that it’s safe to return to work or the marketplace if those who are infected are being identified and isolated from those who are healthy.
Last week, Harvard University researchers quantified what they say is the minimum testing target in order for the nation to safely reopen: 152 tests per 100,000 people each day. Although that might not sound too hard, as of April 15, the researchers’ recommend target was more than three times higher than the level the country had so far reached. Mississippi, at 84 tests per 100,000, was much closer than most to the target, but it still has a long ways to go.
So, although the state should take some satisfaction in being further along with its COVID-19 testing than most, it can’t be satisfied. One last sobering statistic will explain why. For all the progress Mississippi has done on testing, it still has not tested about 98 percent of its population.