Public/Global Health

CDC testing limits delayed finding coronavirus cases, Washington officials say

Officials in Washington state said Saturday that limits on testing capacity and strict criteria for testing from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) delayed the identification of cases of coronavirus. 

Washington officials announced three new cases of coronavirus on Saturday, including one person who died of the disease. 
Officials pointed to both limits on the availability of tests and strict criteria from the CDC that limited testing to people who had returned from an affected country or had been known to be in contact with someone with the virus. 
The CDC changed those criteria in recent days and expanded them, as officials discovered possible cases of the virus spreading in the United States with unknown origins, an indication a possible spread among the general public. 
“If we had the ability to test earlier, I’m sure we would have identified patients earlier,” Dr. Jeffrey Duchin, health officer for Seattle and King County, told reporters. 
Dr. Frank Riedo, a top official at the EvergreenHealth hospital system in Washington, made similar comments at a press conference alongside state health officials. 
“What prompted us to start looking is the change in the testing criteria” from the CDC in recent days, Riedo said. 
The new criteria allow people to be tested who have severe respiratory illness with no other explanation, even if they have not traveled to affected countries or have been in contact with a known coronavirus patient, he noted.
“That there are patients now being identified locally has to do with that increased testing capacity and the change in the definition for who can get tested,” Riedo added. 
The lack of widespread tests has led experts to say they think more cases of transmission among the general public are likely occurring in the United States but have gone undetected so far. 
The CDC has now widened its testing criteria and has said that more tests have been made available. Washington state officials said they now have the ability to test in-state rather than sending tests to the CDC headquarters in Atlanta. 
Trump administration officials acknowledged that there were problems with some of the initial tests that caused functionality issues, which officials have now worked to fix. 
The CDC’s earlier testing criteria also came under scrutiny on Wednesday when UC Davis Medical Center in California, which is caring for a coronavirus patient, said the CDC had initially declined to test the patient because the patient did not meet the criteria. 
The CDC said it was investigating that case but its preliminary indication was they allowed testing on the same day they learned of the case.
U.S. health officials say the risk from the virus to the general public remains low and they note that about 80 percent of people who get the virus do not require hospitalization. Risk is highest among the elderly and people with underlying health conditions. 
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