The coronavirus has found a crack in the nation’s public health armor, and it is not one that scientists foresaw: diagnostic testing. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention botched its first attempt to mass produce a diagnostic test kit, a discovery made only after officials had shipped hundreds of kits to state laboratories. From a report: A promised replacement took several weeks, and still did not permit state and local laboratories to make final diagnoses. And the C.D.C. essentially ensured that Americans would be tested in very few numbers by imposing stringent and narrow criteria, critics say. On Monday, following mounting criticism of the federal response, Trump administration officials promised a rapid expansion of the country’s testing capacities. With the help of private companies and academic centers, as many as a million diagnostic tests could be administered by the end of this week, said Dr. Stephen Hahn, commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration. But many scientists wonder if the moves come too late. As of Monday evening, 103 Americans were infected with the coronavirus in the United States. Six deaths have been reported. Dozens of patients, in several states, may have caught the virus in their communities, suggesting that the pathogen already may be circulating locally.
The case numbers are rising not just because the virus is spreading, but because federal officials have taken steps toward expanded testing. The persistent drumbeat of positive test results has raised critical questions about the government’s initial management of the outbreak. Why weren’t more Americans tested sooner? How many may be carrying the virus now? Most disturbing of all: Did a failure to provide adequate testing give the coronavirus time to gain a toehold in the United States? “Clearly, there have been problems with rolling out the test,” said Dr. Thomas Frieden, former director of the C.D.C. “There are a lot of frustrated doctors and patients and health departments.” Still, Dr. Frieden said he thought the situation was improving. Other experts, although supportive of the agency, were mystified that federal officials could have committed so many missteps. “The incompetence has really exceeded what anyone would expect with the C.D.C.,” said Dr. Michael Mina, an epidemiologist at Harvard University. “This is not a difficult problem to solve in the world of viruses.”
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