Lawmakers are expressing skepticism about U.S. health officials' claims that long-overdue testing for the new coronavirus would be widely available by the end of the week.
The questions were raised at a hearing of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions. The head of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Dr. Stephen Hahn said labs should have the capacity to run as many as 1 million tests by the end of the week. The FDA has been working with a private company to get test kits out to labs.
Sen. Patty Murray said testing has become a huge concern in her home state of Washington, where the virus has been spreading at least eight people have died.
“I am hearing from people who are sick, who want to get tested, and don’t know where to go,”′ said Murray.
The Centers for Disease Control has also been distributing test kits it developed to state and city public health labs. The kits were developed in January but the tests often provided inconclusive results to samples that should have been positive.
According to the Associated Press, only about half a dozen local and public health labs had fully functional test kits from the CDC as of last week. In a Tuesday press conference, Dr. Nancy Messonnier, director of CDC's National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases said an investigation into the CDC's test kits was ongoing.
The virus, known as COVID-19, has infected more than 90,000 people worldwide and killed more than 3,100.
In the U.S, 108 people have been infected. The 108 U.S. cases include 45 people who were aboard the Diamond Princess cruise ship briefly quarantined in Japan, three people repatriated to the U.S. from China, and 60 other U.S. cases.
Among the 60, 22 cases are travel-related, 11 are believed to be cases of person-to-person transmission and 27 cases are still under investigation, with the source of the infection still unknown.
To put the coronavirus numbers in context, millions of Americans get the flu every single year and there are thousands of flu deaths annually.Since October 2019, the CDC estimates around 32 million Americans have gotten the flu. That’s one in every 10 Americans.
Messonnier continued to stress the importance of personal actions Americans can take to avoid infection, such as washing hands and avoiding contact with those who are sick.