Speed is critical in the response to COVID-19. So why has the United States been so slow in its attempt to develop reliable diagnostic tests and use them widely?
The World Health Organization (WHO) has shipped testing kits to 57 countries. China had five commercial tests on the market 1 month ago and can now do up to 1.6 million tests a week; South Korea has tested 65,000 people so far.
The U. S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in contrast, has done only 459 tests since the epidemic began. The rollout of a CDC-designed test kit to state and local labs has become a fiasco because it contained a faulty reagent. Labs around the country eager to test more suspected cases—and test them faster—have been unable to do so. No commercial or state labs have the approval to use their own tests.
In what is already an infamous snafu, CDC initially refused a request to test a patient in Northern California who turned out to be the first probable COVID19 case without known links to an infected person.
The problems have led many to doubt that the official tally of 60 confirmed cases in the United States is accurate. “There have been blunders, and there could be an underlying catastrophe that we don’t know about,” says epidemiologist Michael Mina, who helps run a microbiology testing lab at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. “It’s been very complicated and confusing for everyone with almost no clarity being provided by the CDC.”