As fears in the U.S. spread over the coronavirus outbreak that the World Health Organization has now deemed a global pandemic, many are now raising concerns about the shortage of adequate and widely accessible lab tests for the virus across America.
As of March 10, according to data from the University of Oxford, South Korea had tested 210,144 people. In Italy, 60,761 people had been tested. In the United Kingdom, 21,261 people had been tested. In the United States, however, only 8,554 tests had been administered, despite a much larger population — leaving the potential for people who do not know they are positive to continue spreading the virus to others.
In a news conference on Thursday, California Governor Gavin Newsom raised another red flag about the current state of testing in the U.S.: Some of the test kits being sent to states by the CDC are reportedly missing key components needed to extract genetic material from the nasal and cheek swabs collected from patients.
“The test kits do not include in every case the RNA extraction kits, the reagents, the chemicals, the solutions that are components of the broader tests,” he said. “I think it’s very much in line with your going to the store and purchasing a printer but forgetting to purchase the ink.”
Newsom said California had completed 1,573 coronavirus tests and has the ability to perform 8,227 more. However, in the absence of complete test kits, the 18 state labs, one private lab and four hospitals in California that are currently set up to perform coronavirus tests are being hampered from reaching their full testing capabilities.
“I am surprised this is not more of the national conversation,” Newsom told reporters, as he cautioned that inadequate testing capabilities would likely be a problem for other states as well. “They are improving, but there are still challenges and we need to own up to that, and we need to be forthright and honest about what those are.”
In the meantime, the state of California is stepping in to help provide missing test kit components to its labs, with commercial labs and private hospitals also pitching in to help fill shortages.