Lawmakers Urge CDC to Quickly Distribute Coronavirus Diagnostic Tests

February 4, 2020 by Dan McCue
In this photo released by China's Xinhua News Agency, medical workers in protective suits help transfer the first group of patients into the newly-completed Huoshenshan temporary field hospital in Wuhan in central China's Hubei province. China said Tuesday the number of infections from a new virus surpassed 20,000 as medical workers and patients arrived at a new hospital and President Xi Jinping said "we have launched a people's war of prevention of the epidemic." (Xiao Yijiu/Xinhua via AP)

WASHINGTON — A bipartisan group of 48 lawmakers, led by Rep. Derek Kilmer, D-Wash., in the House, and Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash, in the Senate, are urging the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention to quickly distribute rapid diagnostic tests for the coronavirus.

In a letter to CDC director Dr. Robert R. Redfield, the lawmakers ask that in distributing the first available tests, the agency prioritize states with confirmed cases.

The letter follows the confirmation of 11 cases of coronavirus in the U.S., including 1 diagnosed case in Washington state.

The other confirmed cases include six in California, two in Illinois, and one each in Arizona and Massachusetts.

“…given how rapidly this virus may spread, we agree with your assessment that local and state health jurisdictions must have the tools to detect and react to confirmed cases in real-time,” the lawmakers said.

“We know that CDC is working to quickly distribute a rapid diagnostic test to state and local officials and urge CDC to do so as soon as possible, without compromising scientific validity. We further urge you to prioritize localities where cases have already been confirmed, so that additional cases may be detected in real-time,” they added.

Currently, the CDC headquarters in Atlanta is the only place in the country with a test for the new coronavirus. That means lab results take at least 24 to 36 hours, including the time it takes to send samples overnight to Atlanta, plus four to six hours to perform the actual test.

The lawmakers said this process drastically increases the time it takes for local physicians and health officials to confirm these diagnoses. “As the number of suspected cases rises, this will become an unsustainable bottleneck in the diagnostic pipeline that could hinder efforts to stop the spread of this disease,” they wrote.

So far, the CDC said it’s performed 260 tests sent from 36 states. The 11 known cases tested positive; 167 were negative. The rest are pending, and infectious disease experts said additional cases are expected.

In light of this, the lawmakers said, “it is essential that local health care providers continue to devote their resources to those who are confirmed positive for the virus, and this is only possible if the test can be conducted locally and rapidly.”

On Monday, the CDC said it planned to submit the diagnostics to the Food and Drug Administration for approval of the test under “emergency use authorization.” That action hastens the approval process for potentially lifesaving medical or diagnostic products during public health emergencies, the CDC said.

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