Trump Repeats Coronavirus Test Claim. But the Positivity Rate Is Climbing

President Donald Trump blamed the increasing number of coronavirus cases in the U.S. on the country's testing capacity being "so massive and so good" on Wednesday night, despite data showing the positivity rate has risen over the past three weeks.

"There is a rise in Coronavirus cases because our testing is so massive and so good, far bigger and better than any other country," Trump tweeted. "This is great news, but even better news is that death, and the death rate, is DOWN. Also, younger people, who get better much easier and faster!"

The president was correct to say that the U.S. had conducted a lot of tests. According to the COVID Tracking Project run by The Atlantic, more than 33 million tests had been conducted in the U.S. as of Friday morning.

Statistics collated by the University of Oxford's Our World in Data project also showed that the U.S. was conducting more daily COVID-19 tests than several other major economies.

But test numbers are not the whole picture. The nationwide positivity rate—the portion of tests with positive results—has increased above the 5 percent threshold recommended by the World Health Organization, according to COVID Tracking Project data.

Put simply, as the U.S. conducts more tests, an increasing proportion is coming back positive when compared to before, reflecting an acceleration in the spread of infection.

Dr. Peter Drobac, a physician and specialist in infectious diseases at the Saïd Business School at the University of Oxford, told Newsweek that the rising positivity rate indicated that the virus was winning.

"Test positivity rate is an indicator of whether you are getting ahead of the outbreak or still chasing it," he said. "Of course more tests will usually mean more positive results. But if an outbreak is under control, the number of negative tests will increase much more – so the percentage of all tests that are positive will drop.

"A high test positivity rate means that the reported cases represent just the tip of the iceberg."

Breaking down average positivity rates by region, the COVID Tracking Project found that the South had a positivity rate of 11.3 percent as of Thursday, while the West had an 8.7 percent positivity rate.

By comparison, the Northeast's positivity rate stood at just 1.6 percent, with the Midwest's coming in slightly higher at 4.2 percent.

Johns Hopkins University researchers used the same data to track the number of tests being carried out in each state, combined with the local positivity rate.

According to the tracker, Arizona's test positivity rate jumped to a staggering 24 percent. The number of tests conducted has also risen to 2 tests per 1,000 people.

Florida and Texas are reporting similarly high positivity rates, with 16 percent of tests conducted in Florida and 14 percent of tests in the Lone Star State returning confirmed COVID-19 cases.

An increase in testing in California was met with a similar increase in the positivity rate. The Johns Hopkins University tracker said 11.2 percent of tests came back positive on Wednesday in the state.

President Trump made his latest comments after the reported number of new COVID-19 cases topped the 50,000 mark on Wednesday and Thursday this week.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the Director of the National Institutes of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, warned in the JAMA science journal this week that the U.S. was "not going in the right direction" in its battle with COVID-19.

"Right now if you look at the number of cases, it's quite disturbing," Fauci said. "We're setting records practically every day of new cases in the numbers that are reported. That clearly is not the right direction."

Newsweek has contacted the White House for comment. This article will be updated with any response.

Donald Trump Rose Garden Press Conference
Donald Trump speaks at a joint news conference with Polish President Andrzej Duda in the Rose Garden of the White House on June 24, 2020 in Washington, DC. Drew Angerer/Getty Images

This article was updated to include a statement to Newsweek from Dr. Peter Drobac.