Initially, the lab will be able to conduct about 400 tests a day, eventually expanding to thousands of tests a day, said Scott Dowell, leader of coronavirus response at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The project is ramping up as quickly as possible, but it’s not clear exactly when it will launch, he added. Among other things, software needs to be upgraded to handle the expected crush of requests, and a detailed questionnaire finalized for people who request tests.
While Public Health – Seattle & King County has confirmed 71 cases and 15 deaths as of Saturday, modeling by Trevor Bedford, a computational biologist at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, suggests the actual number of infections in the Seattle area is between 500 and 600. Unchecked, that is projected to increase to 30,000 by the end of March – underscoring the importance of slowing the spread as quickly as possible, Dowell said.
The new effort aims to leverage the formidable resources and expertise of the Gates Foundation, known for fighting disease and epidemics around the globe, to assist local health agencies struggling to keep up with a fast-moving outbreak. The Seattle area has emerged as an epicenter of the new disease, with far more cases and deaths than any other U.S.