Skip to main content

No, the US has not tested more people in 8 days than South Korea did in 8 weeks

Dressed in full protective gear, a healthcare worker administers a COVID-19 test to a person in their vehicle.
Testing has ramped up in the U.S. There are even drive-through testing stations in many states. But we're still behind South Korea.
(Image: © Shutterstock)

In a press conference on March 24, President Donald Trump stated that "We've done more tests in eight days than South Korea has done in eight weeks," referring to tests for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. But his claim is false. Here are the actual numbers. 

The Korean Center for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC) has been publishing a daily COVID-19 test report since they began testing on Jan. 3. In the eight weeks between Jan. 28 (when 187 tests had already been recorded) and March 24, the KCDC recorded 348,395 tests (in all, KCDC had recorded 348,582 tests since Jan.3). 

It's harder to get an accurate number for nationwide testing in the U.S. because the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control only records the tests performed at their agency's labs or at state public health labs. (And that number is kind of embarrassing at 94,514.) But the vast majority of the tests in the U.S are done through private labs, which aren't included in the CDC count. 

The COVID Tracking Project, a nationwide dataset managed by volunteer analysts and journalists, reported 344,728 tests as of March 24 (it's 418,810 as of today, March 25). And the total for the eight days between March 16 and March 24 comes to 304,605 tests, according to the tracker. So, that's 43,790 fewer tests than the past eight weeks in South Korea. 

It doesn't matter, anyway

But total testing numbers aren't a useful metric when the population of the two countries is so different. With a population of about 329 million, the U.S. supports far more people than South Korea, at about 51.5 million. A better comparison of testing prowess would adjust for population size. 

"If a country has five people in it, of course they could only have five tests," Dr. Robert Gallo, director of the Institute of Human Virology at the University of Maryland School of Medicine and a co-discoverer of HIV, told Kaiser Health News and PolitiFact.

Although both countries reported their first cases of COVID-19 on the same day (Jan. 20), South Korea's testing rate is already six times higher than the test rate in the U.S. So far, the U.S. test rate is about 1,048 tests per million people and South Korea's is 6,764 tests per million people. 

Testing has ramped up in the past few days in the U.S., but it took the country about seven weeks to really get moving with testing. South Korea had already run around 80,000 tests in that time period, which experts say has contributed to the country's ability to contain the virus so well. 

"South Korea followed up tests vigorously to support isolation and quarantine — the steps needed to reduce spread," Dr. Joshua Sharfstein, vice dean for Public Health Practice and Community Engagement at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore told Kaiser Health News and Politifact. "The U.S. has a long ways to go to develop this critical capacity."

Originally published on Live Science.

ABCmouse - 1 Month Free!

The one-month trial gives you access to all of the educational site's 9,000 activities in reading, science, math and art. Keep your child busy and learning while we are all stuck indoors.
View Deal

  • h4ck3l
    If you watch the press conference, Dr Brix was the one that made this claim and President Trump repeated it during that same press conference, following up with a tweet on the topic. You are refuting the claim made by Dr Brix, not President Trump.
    Reply
  • McF
    Thank you, h4ck3I. I watched March 25 (where Trump repeats this statement, and probably was correct by then with one extra day). You are correct that this is Dr. Brix comment on March 24. Here is a link for anyone interested: https://thehill.com/policy/healthcare/489274-birx-us-has-done-more-testing-in-8-days-than-south-korea-in-8-weeks
    Also, Dr. Brix's exact words are "Probably by today we will have done more tests...", so even she qualifies it with a very significant "probably". The spirit of the statement is definitely true, not false.

    Shame on you, Live Science.
    Reply
  • jhen2
    McF said:
    Thank you, h4ck3I. I watched March 25 (where Trump repeats this statement, and probably was correct by then with one extra day). You are correct that this is Dr. Brix comment on March 24. Here is a link for anyone interested: https://thehill.com/policy/healthcare/489274-birx-us-has-done-more-testing-in-8-days-than-south-korea-in-8-weeks
    Also, Dr. Brix's exact words are "Probably by today we will have done more tests...", so even she qualifies it with a very significant "probably". The spirit of the statement is definitely true, not false.

    Shame on you, Live Science.
    Thank you for your correction of Livescence's reporting.
    Reply
  • Blackguard
    You are responsible for your actions and statements no matter who said it first president trump made the statement on tv and then repeated it on Twitter. His irresponsibility is inexcusable. Plus the statement is beyond misleading since South Korea has 50 million people and the United States has over six times that.

    Thank you Li ve Science for your solid, factual information and your timely correction of a minor inaccuracy.
    Reply
  • MACSR
    "It's harder to get an accurate number for nationwide testing in the U.S. because the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control only records the tests performed at their agency's labs or at state public health labs. (And that number is kind of embarrassing at 94,514.) But the vast majority of the tests in the U.S are done through private labs, which aren't included in the CDC count. "

    So whats the number when you add in the private Labs? Trying to trick the public by comparing apples to oranges. America is strong because of our private sector and it is an invalid comparison to not include that data. Shame Shame.

    Change the name to lyingscience
    Reply
  • chrisko
    Actually, as of end of day 3/24/2020, the USA had administered more Covid-19 tests than South Korea had - even though the statement made by Blix stated that this would be the case shortly (and by the next day, the USA had far surpassed SK in total number of tests administered). While the actual number of tests administered in the USA was only very slightly higher than that which had been done in SK, the statement is actually factually correct. Isn't a fact checking site supposed to measure or rate what was said as being factually correct or not factually correct? Here's the thing, I person A says "6 eggs is more egg than 5 eggs" . . . this is true. But if a fact checking site doesn't like that person, they can then change the statement into something that was not said and therefore claim that it is not true. For example, "fact checking site" can make the claim that 5 jumbo eggs if more egg than 6 regular eggs - and then proclaim that person A's statement is NOT TRUE! Another case on this same topic - CNN's "Fact Checking" (term used very loosely) claims the same statement made by Blix and repeated by Trump are NOT TRUE - but in doing so, they have taken this approach and changed the metric of the actual statement (number of tests administered) and instead rated the claim on something that was not stated, claimed or even directly related to what was said - CNN "Fact Checking" (again, term used very loosely) claimed the STATEMENT MADE was NOT TRUE on the basis that CNN "Fact Checking" was not using the same metric - they were admittedly using a whole and completely different metric - tests per capita. There were no references to tests per capita administered in the Blix/Trump statement - the statement only claimed total number of tests administered. The problem with "Fact Checking" arises when biases is introduced in RATING a fact. When the rating of a "FACT" of a prefered person's quote is being administered, too many "FACT CHECKING" sites use alternative reasoning and metrics as a means to claim the "statement" is true or mostly true. When the rating of a "FACT" of a disliked person's quote is being administered, too many "FACT CHECKING" sites use alternative reasoning and metrics as a means to claim the "statement" is NOT TRUE or mostly not true. In the end, "FACT CHECKING" sites have become just as unreliable as much of the US media (all of which is pretty horrible in terms of accuracy, factualness, bias and agenda). Now, I don't have a problem with people hating Trump and pointing out his many flaws, misstatements, inaccurate statements, and a$$hole like nature - but when "FACT CHECKING" sites lose credibility in how they perform their job and allow agenda or bias to enter the equation based on the "person" being fact checked, then the "FACT CHECKING" sites lose all credibility on all matters that they purportedly are supposed to be conveying or rating as to what is factual and what is not factual.
    Reply