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For months now, the nation’s top infectious disease expert has been telling Americans that the Covid-19 positivity rate — the percentage of tests that are positive — is the best predictor of where the coronavirus is going to ravage next.
“It’s a clear indication that you are getting an uptick in cases, which inevitably leads to surges, and then you get hospitalizations, and then you get deaths,” Dr. Anthony Fauci told CNN in early August. He has reiterated this point many times since.
In other words, a rising positivity rate is an early predictor of where we’ll see an uptick in Covid-19 cases. It’s an indicator for how widespread infection is in a given area, and also whether there is enough testing to keep up with levels of disease transmission.
Johns Hopkins University’s percent positive map (above) provides a quick, easy-to-understand snapshot of what positivity rates look like across the country.
“The higher the percent positive is, the more concerning it is,” according to Johns Hopkins University’s explainer. “As a rule of thumb, however, one threshold for the percent positive being ‘too high’ is 5%. For example, the World Health Organization recommended in May that the percent positive remain below 5% for at least two weeks before governments consider reopening.”
Many states failed to follow that guidance when reopening their economies earlier this year, and the U.S. has collectively struggled to control the spread of the virus ever since.
Right now, according to the data from Johns Hopkins, about two thirds of states are over that “too high” threshold of 5% positivity.
Equally concerning: In 29 states, the positivity rate has been rising for two consecutive weeks. As Dr. Fauci has explained repeatedly, a rising positivity rate is a reliable predictor of a coming surge.
On the Johns Hopkins map, the 12 states with positivity rates over 10% are colored orange. The shade of orange becomes progressively darker as the positivity rate rises.
The two states colored the darkest hue of orange — Idaho (24.4%) and South Dakota (20.4%) currently have positivity rates that are more than four times above what public health experts say is the cutoff.
In another four states — Wisconsin (19.4%), Iowa (17.2%), Nevada (15.1%) and Kansas (15.0%) — the positivity rate is at least three times more than the acceptable threshold.
The remaining orange-tinted states — Utah (14.2%), Alabama (13.6%), Indiana (13.4%), Wyoming (13.2%), Nebraska (12.5%) and Florida (10.3%) have rates more than twice as high as what health experts consider dangerous.
A whopping 19 other states are colored yellow, signifying that they are also above the “too high” threshold, with positivity rates between 5% and 10%.
On the bright side, 19 states are having more success managing the pandemic, achieving both a positivity rate below 5% and have experienced two consecutive weeks of a declining percent positive.
Notably, the percent positive is on the decline in all of New England, where no state has a positivity rate above 1.8%.