Having real-time data on hospitalizations across the country would do two things. First, it would provide a window into the spread of the coronavirus, albeit a week or so old because of the time it takes for infected patients to get sick enough to be hospitalized. Second, it would enable federal and state officials to identify hot spots that need more equipment and staffing and to shift resources from one region to another.

“You want to avoid what happened in Italy and Spain, where you first find out you have a COVID epidemic when ICUs are filling up,” said Dr. Peter Hotez, co-director of the Center for Vaccine Development at Texas Children’s Hospital and dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston. “It sounds like in some parts of the [United States], that’s happening because the testing never got up to speed.

“The whole reason you’re doing testing is to get ahead of that.”