As cases of COVID-19 continue to spike around the world, the CDC warned on Tuesday that Americans should prepare for the likelihood that the coronavirus will eventually spread here. Amid escalating outbreaks outside of China, it’s clear that there has been undetected transmission of the virus from countries with which the U.S. has not restricted travel. While there has not been a corresponding spike in cases within the U.S., many health experts are warning the coronavirus may already be here. That remains an unknown though – in no small part because the U.S. has done very little testing for the virus. And thanks to problems at the CDC, including the distribution of a faulty test kit for the coronavirus, it’s not clear when the country’s testing capacity will improve.
“We’re testing everybody that we need to test,” President Trump insisted on Wednesday during his first press conference on the coronavirus. He’s almost certainly wrong.
Also on Wednesday, the U.S. confirmed its first coronavirus case of unknown origin – providing the first evidence that the virus is spreading, undetected, inside the U.S. without any known, direct link to the original outbreak in mainland China. It may not be the first undetected outbreak, either. On Monday, the Washington Post reported that at one unnamed hospital in the U.S., clinicians were unable to test a patient who had developed coronavirus-like symptoms after returning from a trip to Singapore.
Across the country, some health-care facilities and public health laboratories have begun looking for alternative ways to test for the virus, including using imported tests or developing their own, but those efforts have faced regulatory delays. At the same time, the CDC guidelines on who should be tested for the coronavirus have not been expanded, even as the disease has spread around the globe.
Below is a look at what’s gone wrong and what may come next.
How many people in the U.S. have been tested for the coronavirus?
According to the CDC, 445 people have been tested for the virus as of February 25, resulting in 15 confirmed coronavirus infections, including two cases resulting from person-to-person spread, and one case of unknown origin. Those totals only include cases detected and laboratory-tested inside the U.S. – not from people the U.S. has flown back from abroad, like the American passengers on the quarantined Princess Diamond cruise ship in Japan.
There is no centralized count of how many people are being monitored or have been asked to self-quarantine by local and state health officials around the country.
How does U.S. testing compare with other countries?
Not well. While the U.S. has tested less than 500 cases, U.K. health officials have conducted more than 7,100 coronavirus tests as of Wednesday, confirming 13 positive cases, and U.K. authorities have announced aggressive plans to test thousands more, including drive-thru coronavirus testing. South Korea, which is battling the largest known outbreak outside of China, already has drive-thru testing in place and the country’s health officials have already conducted more than 30,000 coronavirus tests – mostly within the last week. And just one province in Canada, Ontario, has already conducted more tests (629) than in the entire U.S.
The amazing doctors in Deagu here in South Korea sent us this. A picture of their new drive- thru coronavirus test facility. Such a clever idea and so quickly set up.