Yesterday the United States placed restrictions on travel from Brazil, which is rapidly emerging as a top global COVID hotspot. The country has now the second highest case could in the world with 363,211 cases, second only to the United States and just ahead of Russia. But if you look at the testing numbers, the situation looks even more ominous.
Despite the mounting case count Brazil is doing only a tiny fraction of the tests as almost any other country with a major outbreak. To give a sense of comparison, Italy has conducted 57,003 tests per million inhabitants; the US has conducted 44,922; Brazil has conducted 3,461. I didn’t leave off a digit. The scale of testing is lower by an order of magnitude. Indeed, if you look at the rate of tests coming back positive in Brazil it is exactly 50% (49.67%).
Again, for context, that’s the percentage New York briefly reached on the few days at the very peak of its outbreak, basically March 28th through April 2nd. Testing percentage is always difficult to interpret. It depends heavily on your methodology for testing. If you’re testing only people with severe illness in emergency rooms, obviously you’re going to get very high percentages. In practice, if that’s who you’re testing that’s likely because your outbreak is in exponential growth and you only have the ability to test people who are critically ill.
We can’t say precisely but it’s a bad sign and it suggests the situation in Brazil is grave and escalating rapidly. Just as another point of comparison, the percentage in the US is currently 6%.
The other element of the situation is that Brazil’s President Bolsonaro, a Brazilian version of President Trump in many ways, has also been a big booster of hydroxchloroquine and an even more adamant advocate of the anti-social distancing agenda Trump has on and off again embraced. How this fits into the current outbreak is unknown.