medRxiv. 2021 Apr 20:2021.04.14.21255476. doi: 10.1101/2021.04.14.21255476. Preprint.
BACKGROUND: Availability of SARS-CoV-2 testing in the United States (U.S.) has fluctuated through the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, including in the U.S. state of Illinois. Despite substantial ramp-up in test volume, access to SARS-CoV-2 testing remains limited, heterogeneous, and insufficient to control spread.
METHODS: We compared SARS-CoV-2 testing rates across geographic regions, over time, and by demographic characteristics (i.e., age and racial/ethnic groups) in Illinois during March through December 2020. We compared age-matched case fatality ratios and infection fatality ratios through time to estimate the fraction of SARS-CoV-2 infections that have been detected through diagnostic testing.
RESULTS: By the end of 2020, initial geographic differences in testing rates had closed substantially. Case fatality ratios were higher in non-Hispanic Black and Hispanic/Latino populations in Illinois relative to non-Hispanic White populations, suggesting that tests were insufficient to accurately capture the true burden of COVID-19 disease in the minority populations during the initial epidemic wave. While testing disparities decreased during 2020, Hispanic/Latino populations consistently remained the least tested at 1.87 tests per 1000 population per day compared with 2.58 and 2.87 for non-Hispanic Black and non-Hispanic White populations, respectively, at the end of 2020. Despite a large expansion in testing since the beginning of the first wave of the epidemic, we estimated that over half (50-80%) of all SARS-CoV-2 infections were not detected by diagnostic testing and continued to evade surveillance.
CONCLUSIONS: Systematic methods for identifying relatively under-tested geographic regions and demographic groups may enable policymakers to regularly monitor and evaluate the shifting landscape of diagnostic testing, allowing officials to prioritize allocation of testing resources to reduce disparities in COVID-19 burden and eventually reduce SARS-CoV-2 transmission.