(CNN) – At least four states combined the results of two different tests, possibly giving a misleading picture of when and where the coronavirus spread.
More than 1.5 million people in the United States have tested positive for coronavirus, and more than 93,000 have died, according to Johns Hopkins University.
Virginia, Texas, Georgia, and Vermont have said they have added two numbers to their daily totals: viral test results and antibody test results.
Viral tests are taken with a nasal swab or saliva sample and look for direct evidence that someone currently has covid-19. Antibody tests, meanwhile, use blood samples to look for biological signs that a person has been exposed to the virus in the past.
The combination of the two types of tests exaggerates a state’s ability to test, a crucial metric as almost every state in the country is relaxing coronavirus restrictions. Experts have consistently emphasized that for states to reopen, there must be adequate testing and tracking. Combining the two results into one could also provide an inaccurate picture of where and when the virus spread, and confuse officials and people in general.
“Public health officials need to know how many people in my state or in my community currently have covid-19. They also need to know how many people have had it in the past and are potentially immune to it, “said Elizabeth Cohen, CNN medical correspondent. “Those are two completely different things.”
Texas, Virginia and Vermont have said they recognized the data problem and took steps to fix it in the past few days. In Georgia, health officials said they have been adding both tests to their daily totals since April in line with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) methodology.
The CDC has not responded to CNN’s request for comment on whether its guidance includes adding antibody tests to the total number of tests. On its website, the database provides daily test results without a breakdown of whether they are viral or antibody.
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With data from the US tests “He has screwed up”, say experts
The tests are currently not accurate enough to be used to make most of the decisions about who should return to work or school, the University of Minnesota team said.
“It is a disaster,” said Mike Osterholm, head of the university’s Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy, which released the report. “The tests are very, very important, but we are not doing the correct tests.”
The amount of testing that has been completed, numbers widely reported by states and by the White House, shows only part of the picture, the report reads.
“It really has screwed up a bit with the data,” Osterholm said. “It is because the public health system is overwhelmed.”
Just this month, the researchers described that antibody tests in the United States are “terribly accurate” with high false-positive rates.
And in recent days, Georgia and Florida have faced questions about the transparency of their reports of coronavirus data.
States reopen public places at their own pace
Since Wednesday, the country’s 50 states have reopened, at least partially.
States have moved at different rates as governors balance reopening their economies with the security of residents. Some states, including Georgia and Texas, launched aggressive reopening plans, while others took a more measured approach.
The Alaska and Iowa governors said their states are ready to reopen most businesses on Friday.
In Alaska, that means that all houses of worship, libraries, museums and sports activities can resume at 8 a.m., said the office of the governor, Mike Dunleavy. Alaska has the fewest cases of any state and has reported new single-digit cases since mid-April.
Alaska residents continue to be encouraged to take precautions, such as distancing themselves and wearing masks in crowds, and visits to prisons and senior centers will be limited.
Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds intends to allow cinemas, zoos, aquariums, museums and wedding venues to reopen on Friday, he said. The pools will also open for spinning and swimming lessons. Bars can reopen on May 28 and school-sponsored activities, such as sports, can resume on June 1, he said.
READ: All US states they partially reopened, leaving it up to the Americans to take the risk of going out again
Indiana also plans to move forward with opening a large chunk of its economy on Friday, but with restrictions like limiting social gatherings to 100 people and dining rooms to 50% capacity, and omitting contact games from the list of sports allowed for resume.
New York, California, and Pennsylvania are among the states that allow the reopening of local areas that report declines in new cases.
More than half of all California counties are moving forward with plans to reopen their economies further despite data showing the state recorded 102 deaths Tuesday, its second-highest number of daily coronavirus deaths. The last time California reported the highest deaths in a day was 115 on April 21.
Many cities also remain under confinement orders. In Baltimore, gatherings of more than 10 people are still banned and retail stores remain closed.
Experts have warned that lifting the restrictions prematurely could mean that thousands more Americans will die in a second wave.
More deaths could have been prevented, according to the report
If the United States had encouraged people to stay home and implemented social distancing policies just a week earlier, more than half the number of deaths and infections could have been prevented, according to new research from Columbia University.
If the United States had closed the country two weeks earlier, 84% of the deaths and 82% of the cases could have been prevented, said the research team led by epidemiologist Jeffrey Shaman.
“Our findings underscore the importance of early intervention and an aggressive response to control the covid-19 pandemic,” they wrote in the report, published online on the MedRxiv preprint server. The findings have not been reviewed by other experts to determine their accuracy.
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The first case of EE. USA was reported in late January. It wasn’t until mid-March that the Trump administration urged Americans to avoid groups and limit travel. It was also then that cities like New York began to close schools. The study used epidemiological models to measure transmission rates from March 15 to May 3 and determine the impact that social distancing could have on the transmission of the disease.
The first days were important, they noted. “During the initial growth of a pandemic, infections increase exponentially. As a consequence, early intervention and rapid response are critical, ”they wrote.
However, they said, it is also true that they could not explain how people would have responded.
“Public compliance with social distancing rules may also be delayed due to suboptimal awareness of the risk of infection,” they noted.
CNN’s Eric Levenson, Ed Lavandera, Ashley Killough, Jen Christensen, Maggie Fox, Jamiel Lynch and Rebekah Riess contributed to this report.