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March 9, 2020

US still under pressure to increase Covid-19 diagnostic testing

By GlobalData Healthcare

As of 1 March, the US had tested approximately 470 people for the novel coronavirus Covid-19. This equates to less than two tests per million inhabitants, meaning that the US ranked behind numerous other countries, including South Korea, Italy, Austria, Switzerland, the UK, Finland, Vietnam, Turkey and Canada in terms of the percentage of its population that had been tested for the disease.

The rate of testing in the US is now improving due to testing criteria being broadened and the FDA publishing new guidance on 28 February, which allows Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments (CLIA)-certified laboratories to develop and use their own Covid-19 diagnostic tests. However, the total number of people who have been tested for it since these changes were implemented is not yet known.

While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) previously disclosed the total number of Americans tested for Covid-19, this figure was removed from its website on 2 March. This decision has been widely criticized on social media and in the press. An independent investigation published by The Atlantic on 6 March only managed to confirm that 1,895 tests for the disease have been performed in the US. This figure, which was calculated via interviewing public health officials and surveying state-level data, indicates that the US is still far behind many other countries in terms of its diagnostic testing for Covid-19.

US officials have indicated that they are working hard to distribute more testing kits. Anthony Fauci, head of the infectious disease unit at the National Institutes of Health, indicating that 400,000 tests will be available on 9 March and four million tests will be available by 14 March. Private sector laboratories in the US are now also authorized to test for Covid-19 with major manufacturers Lab Corp and Quest Diagnostics both indicating that they will soon be able to begin offering testing services.

Governor of New York Andrew Cuomo and Mayor of New York City Bill de Blasio have indicated that these measures are not enough. Both politicians have noted that some of the most sophisticated laboratories in the country are still not authorized to perform Covid-19 testing. Due to the fact that these laboratories are capable of automated in vitro diagnostics testing for the disease, it has been suggested that their approval would exponentially increase New York’s laboratory testing capabilities.

As the number of confirmed Covid-19 cases continues to rise and US inhabitants are increasingly being asked to self-quarantine, New York and seven other US states have now declared a state of emergency over the worsening public health crisis. While officials release guidance on best practices for avoiding contracting the coronavirus, many companies are encouraging remote working and banning all non-critical business travel as the country battles to contain the disease.

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