CDC has tested 1,583 people for coronavirus

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has tested 1,583 people for the coronavirus since the first cases were identified in the U.S. in January, health officials said Saturday.

Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Commissioner Stephen Hahn told reporters at the White House that figure would increase as more tests are shipped nationwide to address demand. But officials made clear that an individual could be tested only if it was approved by a doctor or public health official, contradicting President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump fires intelligence community inspector general who flagged Ukraine whistleblower complaint Trump organization has laid off over 1000 employees due to pandemic: report Trump invokes Defense Production Act to prevent export of surgical masks, gloves MORE’s pervious claims about test availability. 

Meanwhile, the CDC had recently shipped enough kits to public health labs to test 75,000 patients, Hahn said.

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The CDC and public health labs had run 5,861 tests for the coronavirus as of Friday, Hahn said, though officials could not say how many total patients have been tested.

Nineteen people have died in the U.S. from the coronavirus, and more than 300 cases have been confirmed domestically, including community outbreaks spread in Washington state and California and a growing number of cases in New York state.

After facing criticism over the CDC’s slow pace of testing in the U.S., the FDA made it easier for commercial labs to manufacture and perform their own tests.

More than 2.1 million of those tests will be shipped by Monday to commercial labs, Hahn said, which would translate to roughly 850,000 people who could be tested because current CDC guidelines require two swabs per patient.

However, Americans will not be able to get tested for the coronavirus unless it is ordered by a doctor or public health official, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said Saturday.

Azar’s comments contradict President Trump’s assertion a day earlier that “anybody that wants a test can get a test” and come amid criticism of the administration’s ability to quickly disseminate diagnostic tests across the country as new cases of the coronavirus pop up each day.

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“You may not get a test unless a doctor or public health official prescribes a test,” Azar told reporters at an off-camera briefing at the White House.

“That is our medical system in the United States,” he continued. “In the same way you may not get a cardiac medicine if your doctor doesn’t prescribe that or say it’s indicated, you may not get that either.”

Azar defended Trump’s claim a day earlier during a tour of the CDC, insisting the president was merely “using a shorthand” and “knows the numbers.”

“What the president said yesterday at the CDC, that is consistent with what the FDA and the CDC are saying, which is we as regulators or as those shipping the test are not restricting who can get tested,” Azar said. “We are leaving that to the professional judgment of doctors and public health laboratory officials.”

Azar said there’s no reason that individuals whose doctor recommends getting a test should not be able to get one. He and Hahn explained that a doctor is more likely to order a test if an individual has underlying health problems, is older or shows serious symptoms to indicate they may be more vulnerable to the virus.

Officials stressed that the government is ramping up its shipment of tests to meet expected demand after public health officials and members of Congress have urged the administration to send out more tests due to instances of illness increase. 

Testing was delayed after the CDC sent out faulty tests last month. There are thousands of people under quarantine in New York state, most of whom haven’t been tested but could have the disease.

Public health departments around the country have strict criteria guiding who can be tested, as supplies are limited.

Tests are typically reserved for people who have had close contact with a confirmed case, have traveled from high-risk areas or countries, or have serious respiratory illness with no obvious cause. The elderly and those with underlying health conditions are also being prioritized for testing because they’re most at risk of dying if they’re infected.

“We’ve been waiting for an increase of testing capacity in our community,” said Dow Constantine, executive of King County in Washington state, according to The Wall Street Journal.

“It has been a tremendous strain for public health to have to triage those tests,” Constantine added/

Azar asserted Saturday that California and Washington — two states dealing with particularly high rates of coronavirus cases — “have everything they need in terms of diagnostics.” He also disputed that New York City had insufficient test kits hours after city officials said the lack of testing availability was hampering their ability to contain an outbreak.

Hahn told reporters that the government is prioritizing where it ships the tests to address areas dealing with potential outbreaks, such as California and Washington state. 

“We prioritized the shipment early on to those states that needed them the most,” Hahn said. “We will work with the manufacturers and CDC as the public health information comes in about [areas] that need more. We will certainly help to prioritize those shipments.”