How the US stacks up to other countries in confirmed coronavirus cases

America has been testing people for coronavirus at a slower rate than other developed countries, and yet the data also shows the rate of people diagnosed with Covid-19 in the US is steadily rising, as quickly or more quickly than our peers abroad.

So we don’t yet know the full extent of the outbreak, but we do know America was less prepared for a pandemic than other countries in the first place. The US’s high uninsured rate, high out-of-pocket health care costs, and low medical system capacity combined to make the country more vulnerable to a pathogen before the coronavirus ever came to our shores. America’s lax response in the early days of the outbreak only compounded those preexisting problems.

“Everyone working in this space would agree that no matter how you measure it, the US is far behind on this,” Jen Kates, director of global health and HIV policy at the Kaiser Family Foundation, told Vox of the coronavirus response.

Here’s how the number of confirmed cases in the US compare to select other countries, based on days since each country reached 100 confirmed cases, according to data we analyzed from the Johns Hopkins University coronavirus dashboard. (This is an adaptation of a widely shared chart made by the Financial Times’s John Burn-Murdoch.)

Note that the chart uses a log scale, meaning that the Y axis goes up in equal distances between 100, 1000 and 10,000 to mimic the exponential rate at which a contagion like coronavirus spreads.

As of March 18, the Johns Hopkins research data shows more than 205,000 confirmed cases worldwide, about 6,500 of which are in the US. The actual number of cases is likely much higher. About 8,250 people have died across the world from Covid-19, including 113 in the United States.

As you can see, the confirmed cases in the US are already more in line with Iran and Italy than with places like Hong Kong and Singapore, where the governments mobilized more quickly. While Japan’s case numbers also appear to be quite low, the government there has also been criticized over not having enough tests to properly judge the true number of cases.

As America implements dramatic measures to control the spread of Covid-19, with schools and businesses closing and general social distancing underway, we are still struggling to understand the full scope of the outbreak because of the slow start of testing in the US. It has undeniably hindered our response.

“The testing failure is putting additional strain on our already challenged health system,” Cynthia Cox, director of the Peterson-Kaiser Health System Tracker, said. “The combination of all of these factors will make the US worse off than similar countries.”

Testing is important not only because it gets people diagnosed and appropriate treatment if they do have an infection. It also establishes how widespread a virus actually is. Experts know the size of the problem, they know the rate at which people are being hospitalized or dying, and they can follow its movements.

But the United States has faltered in rolling out coronavirus tests, putting us far behind our economic peers in tracing the outbreak. A manufacturing problem with the test kits that were initially sent out in the field, and a delay in approving commercial tests, set the nation back in stopping or slowing down Covid-19.

Even as testing and testing capacity has ramped up in the US, as of March 18 America still trails other countries in the share of its population being tested for the coronavirus. There have been about 58,000 tests conducted in the US for its population of 329 million.

America increased its daily testing capacity from less than 8,000 on March 2 to 36,810 on March 16 and is expected to reach 100,000 by March 27, according to American Enterprise Institute’s estimates.

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