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America Is 'Way Behind' in COVID-19 Testing

Potential patients are struggling to get tested
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Mar 13, 2020 7:43 AM CDT

(Newser) – Many Americans are infected with coronavirus and don't know it, authorities say—and because of difficulties getting tested, some will get sick and recover without ever knowing for sure whether they had it. Officials warn that America is far behind other countries in testing for coronavirus, making it even more difficult to fight the outbreak. "The system is not really geared to what we need right now, what you are asking for. That is a failing,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told House lawmakers Thursday. "It is a failing. I mean, let’s admit it." More:

  • Demand is outstripping supply. The New York Times spoke to dozens of people across the country days after President Trump promised that anyone who wants a test can get a test, and found that many had been rejected even when they showed symptoms and lived in areas with serious outbreaks. Some were told they didn't meet the criteria for testing; others were told there just weren't enough testing kits.

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  • Only 11K have been tested. Members of both parties said after congressional briefings Thursday that they were shocked only 11,000 of America's 327 million people have been tested by the CDC and public health labs so far, the Guardian reports. South Korea, with 51 million people, tests almost the same number every day, which has helped authorities there control the outbreak. According to a CDC database, only eight Americans were tested Tuesday.
  • This is why numbers are low. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said he had outsourced testing to private labs because of a "federal bottleneck" that has left testing "way behind." "It’s because we have no testing capacity, that’s why the numbers are low. If you actually had testing capacity you would see how high the numbers are already," he tells CNN. "As we do ramp up testing you are going to see those numbers go sky-high."
  • Supply chain problems. A shortage of ingredients could make the delay in testing worse, the Financial Times reports. Qiagen, which makes a chemical used to extract genetic material from swab samples, says it is ramping up production in the US and elsewhere, but still has to ration ingredients. "Like everyone in the industry, we are addressing supply constraints and allocating shipments to the customers with highest needs,” a spokesperson said. “It is imperative that the industry works together to address the unprecedented demand for testing components across the entire workflow." California Gov. Gavin Newsom says some state labs have been unable to use test kits because they lack ingredients.
  • Lawmakers frustrated. Lawmakers from both parties expressed frustration after Thursday's briefings and complained that they weren't getting straight answers from coronavirus task force members, the Wall Street Journal reports. "This has been botched from the beginning," said Democratic Sen. Jon Tester.
  • The dangers of failing to test. Without large-scale testing to track the spread of the virus and allocate resources, health providers could be rapidly overwhelmed by undetected cases, the AP reports. Analysts say a big part of the problem is that the US response is split between public labs and private labs that don't report to the CDC.
(Read more coronavirus stories.)

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