New coronavirus test problem: Not enough people seeking tests in some states

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Credit: Aaron Lavinsky/Star Tribune

Four months into the U.S. coronavirus outbreak, tests for the virus finally are becoming widely available, a crucial step toward lifting stay-at-home orders and safely returning to normal life. But while many states no longer report crippling supply shortages, a new problem has emerged: too few people lining up to get tested.

A Washington Post survey of governors’ offices and state health departments found at least a dozen states where testing capacity outstrips the supply of patients. Many have scrambled to make testing more convenient, especially for vulnerable communities, by setting up pop-up sites and developing apps that help assess symptoms, find free test sites and deliver quick results.

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But the numbers, while rising, are well short of capacity — and far short of targets set by independent experts. Utah, for example, is conducting about 3,500 tests a day, a little more than a third of its 9,000-test maximum capacity, and health officials have erected highway billboards begging drivers to “GET TESTED FOR COVID-19.”

Experts say several factors may be preventing more people from seeking tests, including a lingering sense of scarcity, a lack of access in rural and underserved communities, concerns about cost, and skepticism about testing operations.

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