Fact Checker: Does Iowa rank 47th in coronavirus testing?

Viewers of the Oct. 3 U.S. Senate debate between incumbent Republican Joni Ernst and Democratic challenger Theresa Greenfield heard plenty about the novel coronavirus.

WHO-13 News political director Dave Price asked Greenfield if the $26 million spent on Test Iowa would’ve been better spent on the rapid tests each candidate took before the debate.

While criticizing the state’s efforts, Greenfield said, “Iowa ranks 47th in the nation in testing.”


Greenfield did not specify during the debate in which metric of testing Iowa ranks 47th. The Fact Checker reached out to Greenfield’s campaign, which referred to an Oct. 1 Des Moines Register article.

Graded an A

The article cited a New York Times interactive report that used data from The COVID Tracking Project at The Atlantic and the Harvard Global Health Institute’s “testing target” — how many tests the state is giving versus how many the target says the state should be giving.

The Harvard Global Health Institute uses a variety of factors from each state to determine the number of total tests necessary given the state’s current health precautions. That includes level of virus risk, number of university students, size of prison staff versus prisoners and first responders.

The White House, Wall Street Journal and CBS News are among those using data from The COVID Tracking Project, according to its website.

The New York Times uses the raw testing numbers from the The COVID Tracking Project and the “testing target” for each state from the Harvard Global Health Institute to reach the percentage of the testing target a state has achieved.

At the time of the Register article’s publication, Iowa was third-worst in the nation in this metric, which translates to 48th. Since then, Iowa inched up to 47th.

Iowa’s percentage of the testing target is 15 percent, meaning the state is testing about 15 percent of the people the target says it should.

While the Times interactive article does not allow readers to go back to see the rank at the time of the Oct. 3 debate, the 47th rank is in line with what the rankings were.

The Times report also allows readers to sort the data by daily tests per 100,000 people. When sorting by daily tests per 100,000, Iowa ranks 39th in testing.

The daily test numbers are 14-day rolling averages based on the number of coronavirus tests each state reported.


Greenfield’s claim that Iowa is 47th in the nation in coronavirus testing lines up with data used by the White House and major media outlets. It’s worth noting other methods of ranking testing can improve that to 39th, though. Overall, we give this claim an A.


The Fact Checker team checks statements made by an Iowa political candidate/officeholder or a national candidate/officeholder about Iowa, or in ads that appear in our market.

Claims must be independently verifiable.

We give statements grades from A to F based on accuracy and context.

If you spot a claim you think needs checking, email us at factc[email protected]

This Fact Checker was researched and written by John Steppe of The Gazette.

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