Story at a glance

  • In a phone call briefing, Dr. Nancy Messonnier said that the CDC is expanding operations to test for COVID-19 in five states and cities.
  • She said that these measures attempt to control the spread, and with only 15 cases, they are working.
  • Messonnier says they will expand testing until there is national surveillance on the virus spread.

In a Friday update, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said that it will begin testing for the coronavirus, now named COVID-19, in five separate states.

Dr. Nancy Messonnier, the director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, told reporters that the CDC will be working alongside public health laboratories in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, Chicago and New York City to begin testing for COVID-19. 

Currently, there are 600 people under quarantine in the U.S. with 15 confirmed cases being treated. The CDC will use existing influenza monitoring services in these laboratories to help see if and when COVID-19 is spreading in the U.S. 

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Because COVID-19 is mainly spread through people-to-people contact, Messonnier confirmed that these testing efforts will continue to expand to more cities until the CDC has national surveillance on the virus’s movements.

The sites will have different operation methods, but Messonnier confirmed that CDC experts will modify existing surveillance systems for bio-respiratory disease and influenza and modify them to begin to detect the virus. The idea, Messonnier says, is to test people for COVID-19 if they test negative for influenza. 

“All of our efforts now are to prevent the spread of the virus in our community,” Messonnier reiterated.

She also confirmed to reporters that the CDC policy on testing is to test individuals with both a history of travel or contact with Wuhan and Hubei province in China and are showing symptoms. The outbound timeframe of COVID-19 incubation is approximately 14 days, meaning if a patient is tested too early, the test could give a false negative.  

Messonnier also took time to say that amid problems with the test kits dispensed to labs across the U.S., one of the reagents will be reformulated and the test kits will be reissued to state and local public health labs. 

She clarified that the CDC moved quickly to get them to states, which resulted in some tests returning indeterminate results. 

In this vein, Messonnier admits that in rare quarantine efforts as seen today, “bumps along the way” are inevitable, but that health care professionals and CDC officials have been working around the clock “governed by a sense of urgency” to combat the spread of COVID-19. 

Published on Feb 14, 2020