It isn’t just testing.
Coronavirus case counts are ticking up across the country, and medical experts say the increases can’t be explained by ramped-up testing alone.
As of Tuesday, 30 states and territories had seen new coronavirus cases increase by 25 percent or more over the previous two weeks, with Arizona, Texas, California and Florida recording the greatest gains since Memorial Day.
President Donald Trump has attributed the jump in cases to an increase in testing, but health experts say decreased social distancing is the culprit, and an NBC News analysis of state test and case data shows that COVID-19 case counts are rising even in places where testing is coming down.
Take Wisconsin, where daily new cases have increased by 28 percent over the past two weeks. During the same period, the number of tests decreased by 14 percent.
“When you have been testing at the same volume for some time and despite that your case count is rising, that increase can’t be attributed to just testing,” said Dr. Nasia Safdar, medical director of infection control and prevention at UW Health in Madison, Wisconsin. “When you couple that with what you learn when you interview patients, it becomes clear what behaviors might be driving cases.”
Safdar said that in talking to patients, experts have learned that patients are spending more time indoors at bars and restaurants or are gathering in greater numbers.
That’s different from New York, where cases continue to decline from their April peak despite more testing.
Dr. Jake Deutsch, founder of Cure Urgent Care in New York City, said his clinics are conducting up to 250 tests a day, double the number in the spring. But Deutsch said the clinics had only about a dozen positive tests in the past week, which he attributed to New York’s delayed reopening.
“We’re in an environment where people have been isolating,” Deutsch said. “That’s the difference. When you test more and people have been isolating, the numbers shouldn’t go up. When you test more and the public has been performing as if things are normal, the numbers will go up.”
The increase in cases has led the governors of Texas and Florida to roll back parts of their states’ reopening plans, and Safdar said that is likely to be the new normal until a vaccine or a treatment is found.
“We’ve tried to get people used to the idea of a new normal,” Safdar said. “Going back to the way things were before COVID just isn’t possible.”