FDA official expects 1M coronavirus tests to be available by week’s end

The U.S. will have the capacity by the end of the week to perform nearly 1 million coronavirus tests, public health officials said Monday.

That would mark a significant increase in the number of people able to be tested for the coronavirus in the U.S. after issues with a test developed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) led to delays in diagnosing new cases.

Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Stephen Hahn told reporters at the White House that new regulatory guidance will allow academic centers and private companies to more quickly develop and verify their own tests for public use.

“With this new policy we’ve heard from multiple companies and multiple academic centers, and we expect to have a substantial increase in the number of tests this week, next week and throughout the month,” he said. “The estimates that we’re getting from industry right now, by the end of this week close to 1 million tests will be able to be performed.”

The announcement comes amid growing evidence that the coronavirus is spreading within the U.S. and hours after officials in Washington state announced four more deaths related to the virus.

There are 43 domestic cases of the coronavirus in the U.S., including 29 in California and Washington state, Vice President Pence said at a briefing with reporters. He was joined by members of the White House coronavirus task force, including Deborah Birx, who made her first public appearance since being tasked with coordinating the White House’s response.

Twenty-six of those cases are believed to have been contracted within the U.S., indicating that the disease is now spreading in some communities, Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said.

Local health officials in Washington state announced 18 cases Monday, including six fatalities. Researchers think the virus may have been spreading in Washington for weeks, potentially infecting hundreds of people.

Additional coronavirus cases were confirmed over the weekend in New York, Rhode Island and Florida.

As health departments ramp up testing in the coming days, it is likely that more cases will be discovered, experts say.

Issues with a test developed by the CDC led to delays in testing. And until recently, the CDC approved testing only for people who had close contact with coronavirus patients or had recently traveled to China or other countries facing outbreaks. While experts suspect the virus is already spreading within the U.S, fewer than 4,000 people have been tested.

Still, Azar said community spread was anticipated and the risk to the general public remains “low.”

“The immediate risk to any individual American has been and does continue to be low, but the risk for people with possible exposure to identified cases can be high,” Azar told reporters, adding that the level of risk can change quickly as new cases are discovered.

Pence and others sought to urge calm and downplayed the immediate risk or need to change daily habits. Asked whether he would feel comfortable traveling to DisneyLand with his family, Pence urged Americans to “use common sense.”

“Despite today’s sad news, let’s be clear: the risk to the American people of the coronavirus remains law, according to all experts we’re working with across this effort,” he said.

More confirmed cases and fatalities could put more pressure on Congress to quickly pass billions of dollars in emergency funding to help local, state and federal agencies respond to the virus.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said Saturday she hopes to bring the package to the floor this week. Democrats are pushing for the package to include new grants for state and local governments responding to the coronavirus as well as reimbursements for costs already incurred.

Nearly 89,000 cases of the coronavirus have been confirmed globally, including more than 8,000 in China, where it was first detected in December.

An additional 48 Americans who were repatriated from China and the Diamond Princess cruise ship have tested positive for the virus, according to the CDC.

The Trump administration has attempted to project a united front in combating the disease, giving near-daily press briefings and discussing the issue with state and local officials as well as industry leaders.

President Trump met earlier Monday at the White House with pharmaceutical executives to discuss efforts to develop a vaccine for the coronavirus. Trump has been optimistic about the process, though public health experts have cautioned a usable vaccine likely won’t be available for at least a year.

Pence, who is leading the government efforts to address the coronavirus, spoke via teleconference and video on Monday morning with more than 50 governors.

Trump, Pence and Azar will travel Tuesday to the National Institutes of Health in Maryland, and they will visit the CDC in Atlanta on Friday.

Tags Donald Trump Mike Pence Nancy Pelosi

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