Coronavirus Testing ‘Badly Bungled’ In United States, ‘Science’ Magazine Reports, Fewer Than 4,000 Tests Done

There may be many more coronavirus cases currently in the United States than have been reported; in fact, there may be hundreds or even in the “low thousands” more than the 75 confirmed publicly so far. That warning was issued by former Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Scott Gottlieb on Sunday, and reporting by a leading science journal may back up his speculation.

According to the report published Friday by Science Magazine, the entire coronavirus testing process in the U.S. was “badly bungled” from the start.

“There have been blunders, and there could be an underlying catastrophe that we don’t know about,” Michael Mina, of the Brigham and Women’s Hospital testing laboratory, told Science, adding that the Centers for Disease Control, which oversees testing for the coronavirus, has provided “almost no clarity” regarding the testing situation.

Gottlieb told the CBS Sunday program Face The Nation that “Right now, there’s probably hundreds or low thousands of cases … that aren’t reported yet.”

While Gottlieb added that the U.S. would likely have the ability to screen 10,000 people per day by the end of the first week in March, according to the Science report, the CDC held a briefing to convey information about coronavirus on January 26, but took until February 5 to begin distributing testing kits to local and state health agencies. And even then, there were problems with the kits that caused local labs to experience difficulty validating the tests.

On Sunday, an exclusive report by the political site Axios revealed that a federal scientist found contamination in the CDC labs that manufactured the coronavirus tests.

The FDA now says that the problems have been corrected, and the Department of Health and Human Services said that 3,600 people have now been tested as of Sunday. But that number still leaves the U.S. far behind other countries that have been hit by the outbreak.

By comparison, South Korea — a country with about one-sixth the population of the U.S. — has tested approximately 65,000 people for coronavirus, according to the Science report. China, where the virus is believed to have originated, is now capable of performing 1.6 million tests per week.

A Health and Human Services official told Axios that the U.S. will have the capacity to test 75,000 individuals by the end of the week. But that timetable still leaves a six-week gap between the CDC’s initial coronavirus briefing on January 26 and the first large-scale tests for the virus.

Sunday also brought a report that the number of confirmed coronavirus cases in the U.S. had reached 75 after two California health care workers tested positive for the virus, according to The New York Times. The two workers had been exposed to a patient being treated for coronavirus at a hospital in Sacramento, California.