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U.S. Rep. Veronica Escobar, D-El Paso, delivers the Spanish-language response to President Donald Trump's State of the Union Address on Feb. 4, 2020 (Cedar Attanasio/Associated Press). U.S. Rep. Veronica Escobar, D-El Paso, delivers the Spanish-language response to President Donald Trump's State of the Union Address on Feb. 4, 2020 (Cedar Attanasio/Associated Press).

U.S. Rep. Veronica Escobar, D-El Paso, delivers the Spanish-language response to President Donald Trump's State of the Union Address on Feb. 4, 2020 (Cedar Attanasio/Associated Press).

Madlin Mekelburg
By Madlin Mekelburg April 24, 2020

Texas lags behind other states in coronavirus testing per capita

If Your Time is short

  • Texas is one of the states that has administered the fewest coronavirus tests per capita. At the time of Escobar's statement, only Virginia and Kansas had tested fewer people per capita than Texas.

As state leaders in Texas look to ease restrictions implemented to slow the spread of coronavirus in the state, some people have raised concerns about the number of tests the state has administered.

U.S. Rep. Veronica Escobar, D-El Paso, raised the issue during a webcast with the Wilson Center’s Mexico Institute and the Migration Policy Institute on Wednesday.

"Texas, I believe, either is near the bottom or at the very bottom when it comes to testing per capita, so the numbers are probably far greater than what is being reported," she said. "I believe we don’t have an adequate idea of just how many cases and how many deaths are being reported."

At the time of Escobar’s remark, Texas had administered 216,783 tests for the coronavirus, with 21,069 positive results, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services. The state was reporting 542 coronavirus fatalities with an estimated 7,341 recoveries.

Escobar’s spokeswoman Elizabeth Lopez-Sandoval pointed to the COVID Tracking Project as the source of Escobar’s claim comparing Texas testing to other states.

The COVID Tracking Project was launched by The Atlantic and tracks and publishes data from each state about testing, deaths and hospitalizations related to the coronavirus. 

Looking at the numbers

With a population of more than 27.8 million in 2018 and 216,783 tests administered, Texas had administered about 777 coronavirus tests per 100,000 people as of Wednesday, ranking 48th among states in testing per capita.

Here’s a look at the five states that had administered the fewest coronavirus tests per capita, as of Wednesday:

  • Kansas: 20,203 tests, or about 695 per 100,000 residents
  • Virginia: 60,778 tests, or about 722 per 100,000 residents
  • Texas: 216,783 tests, or about 777 per 100,000 residents
  • Kentucky: 36,075 tests, or about 812 per 100,000 residents
  • Arizona: 56,601 tests, or about 842 per 100,000 residents

The total number of tests administered in Texas is significantly higher than other states at the lower end of the list, but testing per capita remains low.

Here’s how other states with large populations compare to Texas in the number of tests administered per capita, as of Wednesday:

  • Texas: 216,783 tests, or about 777 per 100,000 residents
  • California: 465,327 tests, or about 1,189 per 100,000 residents
  • Illinois: 164,346 tests, or about 1,281 per 100,000 residents
  • Florida: 288,627 tests, or about 1,401 per 100,000 residents
  • New York: 669,982 tests, or about 3,415 per 100,000 residents

And here’s how Texas compares to its neighbors in testing per capita, from lowest to highest, as of Wednesday:

  • Texas: 216,783 tests, or about 777 per 100,000 residents
  • Arkansas: 29,713 tests, or about 993 per 100,000 residents
  • Oklahoma: 45,913 tests, or about 1,171 per 100,000 residents
  • New Mexico: 41,232 tests, or about 1,971 per 100,000 residents
  • Louisiana: 142,834 tests, or about 3,063 per 100,000 residents

Efforts to increase testing

Public health experts say a dramatic increase in testing is needed to ensure it’s safe to reopen sectors of the economy, as limited testing data means there are significant unknowns when it comes to the scope of the virus spread.

The data that does exist is incomplete, as some private laboratories have not reported the number of negative tests they have administered. And there are clear discrepancies in some county-level data.

For example, one small West Texas county reported 12 positive cases of the virus but only reported administering one test as of April 13, according to the American-Statesman. 

During a news conference on April 17, Gov. Greg Abbott said he spoke with the White House and was told Texas would receive "a dramatic increase" in testing — "not just testing those who may show symptoms, but also being able to test entire communities so that we have better information."

California and Arizona have both expanded which individuals meet the criteria required for testing, allowing individuals with no symptoms to be screened.

Abbott told reporters that this increase in testing capacity is expected by "late April or early May."

He declined to offer specifics, but said new testing will be coming from the private sector.

Texas Department of State Health Services Commissioner John Hellerstedt said the private sector will play a role, but public health authorities also are working to grow their capacity.

Our Ruling

Escobar said that Texas "is near the bottom or at the very bottom of COVID-19 testing per capita."

Data supports Escobar’s statement and shows that Texas has lagged behind other states in terms of coronavirus testing per capita. We rate this claim True.

Our Sources

Wilson Center, Immigration and the US-Mexico Border during the Pandemic: A Conversation with Members of Congress, April 22, 2020

Email interview with Elizabeth Lopez-Sandoval, spokeswoman for Escobar, April 23, 2020

PolitiFact, Virginia lags in coronavirus testing, as Mayor LeVar Stoney says, April 22, 2020

PolitiFact Texas, For now, Texas among states with lowest coronavirus death rate, April 3, 2020

Texas Department of State Health Services, Texas Case Counts: COVID-19, April 22, 2020

COVID Tracking Project, Coronavirus numbers by state, accessed April 22, 2020 

Austin American-Statesman, Abbott eases some restrictions in fight against the coronavirus, April 17, 2020

Austin American-Statesman, As Abbott looks to reopen Texas, coronavirus testing lags most other states, April 20, 2020

Houston Chronicle, How many missed? Texas is second-worst in the nation for COVID-19 testing, April 11, 2017

KGUN, Arizona updates COVID-19 testing criteria to anyone who may have been exposed, April 23, 2020

Los Angeles Times, California becomes first state to recommend coronavirus tests for some without symptoms, April 21, 2020

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Texas lags behind other states in coronavirus testing per capita

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