A lot can change in a matter of weeks. In mid-April, the Northeast was cresting a painful coronavirus wave and most of the U.S. was shut down. Now, in late June, things look much different. This week, New York City entered its second phase of reopening and New York State reported its lowest hospitalization rate since the pandemic began. But the virus is spreading unevenly, and some states that claimed early victories are now seeing a worrying increase in new cases. This month, for the first time since April 1, the South and West had more COVID-19 cases than the Northeast. Yesterday, as the U.S. set a record for new cases, New York joined Connecticut and New Jersey in issuing quarantine restrictions on travelers arriving from areas with significant community spread.

April’s key metrics — new cases, hospital admissions, intubations, and deaths — are still important, especially in regions where those numbers are on the rise. But a responsible approach to reopening requires additional data. Covid Exit Strategy measures the number of tests and percentage of positive tests for each state, along with a number of other indicators, to determine each state’s reopening readiness. New York State has its own “early warning monitoring system” dashboard to report daily stats for testing and tracing targets, new infections, severity of infection, and hospital capacity; the idea is to quickly identify and mitigate potential risks as different regions reopen. 

Months into the pandemic, one thing has remained true: Data is critical to mounting an effective response, no matter where we live or what stage we’re in. And “armchair epidemiology” that focuses on meaningless metrics actually “endangers our efforts to get the epidemic under control while we reopen our economy.” We need the right data at the right time to make the right decisions — and that starts with testing. 

How might we scale equitable access to nationwide testing?

We must continue to sustain and scale equitable access to nationwide testing; without it, the U.S. will struggle to respond, reopen, and recover. Read the problem statement and explore opportunities to develop solutions