This Is When Dr. Fauci Says We Will Have Beaten COVID

This is the number the infectious disease expert will be watching closely as the pandemic continues.

Eight months into the pandemic, and most experts seem to agree that eradicating COVID-19 is an achievement that is still a long way off—if it's even possible. But we may be able to contain it on a much shorter timeline. But what will containing and controlling coronavirus look like? How will we know we've succeeded? In an Aug. 18 town hall with Healthline, Anthony Fauci, MD, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), was asked what would have to happen for him to believe that the U.S. has beaten COVID, and he presented a single indicator.

"When the percent of test positivity goes way, way down," Fauci answered, meaning the percentage of positive tests across the country. He pointed to one of the few U.S. COVID success stories as an example. "I mean you look at New York City right now, it's less than one percent. That's what you want the whole country to be," he said.

The percent of test positivity Fauci referred to is the percentage of COVID tests that come back positive. As Johns Hopkins University explains, this metric can help public health officials answer questions like, "What is the current level of SARS-CoV-2 (coronavirus) transmission in the community?" and "Are we doing enough testing for the amount of people who are getting infected?"

Man wearing a mask outside during COVID pandemic

A high percent positive in a given area could mean that the portion of positive tests is too high (which would mean that there's significant community spread) or that the number of tests being administered is too low, according to JHU. Early in the pandemic, when testing was still being ramped up, only people with symptoms and frontline workers were encouraged to seek out a test. But now testing is more widespread and being used as a tool to slow transmission and trace cases. If a state isn't testing widely enough, they will likely have a high percent positive. Basically, this statistic gives officials an understanding of how widespread the virus is and whether or not the amount of testing is sufficient.

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While New York has flattened its curve since the spring and is experiencing a low plateau, many other states have seen their percent positive spike. "There are parts of the country where it's 15, 18, 20 percent that's really high," Fauci told Healthline. Nevada, Idaho, Florida, and Mississippi all currently have rates higher than 15.5 percent. Instead of the total amount of cases and even deaths, the expert will be looking at this number to gauge how states and the country overall is doing. And for more advice from the NIAID director, Dr. Fauci Just Confirmed That This One Thing Kills Coronavirus.

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