How The CDC Botched Its Initial Coronavirus Response With Faulty Tests

The U.S. has only tested 3,600 people for Covid-19, HHS Secretary Alex Azar said Sunday.

Photo by THOMAS KIENZLE/AFP via Getty Images

Topline: U.S. health officials made crucial mistakes in their initial response to the coronavirus that public health experts say hindered the government’s ability to treat the virus earlier—including the use of faulty testing kits and limiting how many people could be tested—but officials say relief is on the way with more testing capacity.

Key background: The limited testing capacity in the U.S. stands in stark contrast to other countries dealing with outbreaks; South Korea can test 10,000 people per day (and even created drive-thru testing facilities), while the U.K. has done 13,000 tests so far. The U.S. has only tested 1,583 people so far, health officials said. The slowdown has frustrated public health experts who say the U.S. hasn’t acted aggressively enough to proactively combat the disease’s spread.

Crucial quote: “We weren’t the first country to be infected, and we didn’t learn from those other countries,” said Rishi Desai, a former epidemic intelligence officer at the CDC who is now the chief medical officer at Osmosis, a Baltimore-based online medical information startup. Desai told Forbes agency officials might have thought they could manufacture a more effective test, but should have used the WHO test while it developed its own. “It’s unfortunate because it shows we’re not aggressively ahead of this.” 

News peg: Six people in the U.S. have died so far from the coronavirus, all of who lived in Washington State. Scientists say Covid-19 has been spreading undetected over the past six weeks in Washington, and officials warn that more cases will crop up soon around the country as more people begin to get tested. Globally, nearly 89,000 people have been infected and about 3,000 have died as the disease continues to spread past China, namely to South Korea, Iran and Italy. 

What’s next: The Department of Health and Human Services is investigating the initial flaw in test kits, Politico reported. The agency did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Forbes. The inconclusive results were caused by a problematic chemical, and the kits themselves may have been manufactured in a contaminated lab, Axios reported

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