coronavirus covid-19 illustration file photo cdc dark background

This illustration, created at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, reveals the structure of the novel coronavirus. The illness caused by this virus has been named COVID-19.

Lancaster County and Pennsylvania hit the same milestone on Wednesday: Each passed the 10% mark in testing its population for COVID-19.

Unfortunately, that’s not a figure to brag about.

According to Johns Hopkins University, only three states — Colorado (9.6%), Wyoming (9.5%) and Hawaii (9.0%) — have lower rates of testing than Pennsylvania over the course of the pandemic. By contrast, the nation’s testing leaders — Alaska and New York — have tested 33% and 31% of their populations, respectively.

The average testing rate is about 17% among the 50 states and the District of Columbia.

The data is not exact, Johns Hopkins notes, because some people may have been tested more than once, and states use different methods for counting tests. So, the figures are presented as “tests per 100,000” population rather than “percentage of population tested.”

As of Wednesday, Pennsylvania had conducted 1,284,725 tests on a population of 12,801,989, according to state Department of Health data and U.S. Census estimates for 2019. In Lancaster County, there have been 54,893 tests among a population of 545,724.

On Thursday, Gov. Tom Wolf said the state is working to expand the pace of testing to ensure that everyone who wants a test can get one.

“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 press release. "Most importantly, improving access to testing helps Pennsylvanians who want and need to test for COVID-19."

Why it matters

Robust testing with quick results is considered an important part of keeping the virus in check. It helps to show how widely the virus has spread in a community, and, when combined with successful contact tracing, can help to limit additional spread by quickly isolating those who have been infected or exposed.

But the turnaround time for test results has slowed as cases and testing have increased in many parts of the nation. In addition, contact tracing programs have met with limited success, locally and nationally, as case numbers have grown and many people fail to respond to tracers who leave messages telling them they have been exposed to someone who tested positive to COVID-19.

Rates of cases, deaths

Among the 50 states and District of Columbia, Pennsylvania ranks higher in its rate of cases and deaths than it does in testing.

Compared with its 48th-place rank in rate of testing, Pennsylvania is 33rd in the per capita rate of COVID-19 cases (922 per 100,000) and 13th in rate of deaths (56 per 100,000), according to Johns Hopkins.

And while it ranks low in testing overall, Pennsylvania has increased its testing volume over time. Over the past two weeks, the state has averaged more than 15,000 tests per day, according to an LNP | LancasterOnline analysis of Department of Health data. That’s up from about 12,000 per day in early July and 8,500 per day in early June.

Lancaster County, meanwhile, has averaged 567 tests per day over the past two weeks. That’s slightly less than its rate in early July, but well above the rate in early June, when we were averaging fewer than 400 tests per day.

The rate of tests that were positive for COVID-19 over the past two weeks was 5.8% statewide and 7.1% in Lancaster County.

According to the World Health Organization, testing programs should aim for positivity rates below 5% to ensure they are casting a wide enough net to catch mild cases and adequately track outbreaks.