Coronavirus Testing in the U.S.: What You Need to Know
When and how to get tested, plus the latest on the testing shortages
If you’ve tried to get tested for coronavirus in the United States but have been turned away, you’re not the only one. As the country grapples with the rapid spread of the coronavirus, tests have been frustratingly hard to come by. But testing is now starting to ramp up.
Experts say testing as many people as possible for the new coronavirus is crucial to slow the rate of infection, or flatten the curve. Public health officials rely on testing to find “hot spots” of the disease, identify which communities are most at risk, and track how widespread the disease is. Once someone knows that they have the virus, they can self-quarantine and stay away from other people.
“We want to be able to tell people that they’re infected because we want them to stay home,” said Karen Carroll, MD, a clinical microbiologist at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, in a March 13 call with reporters. “If we can do this more quickly, it should interrupt the spread.”
An online volunteer effort called the COVID Tracking Project estimates that the country has so far processed around 100,000 tests as of March 19. That’s less than the 274,000 done in South Korea.
Testing shortages in the United States have hampered these efforts. On February 6, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced that it had begun shipping testing kits to certain state and local health labs. But those initial kits were flawed and didn’t work properly, leading to testing delays. The CDC has since sent new test kits to all 50 states and Washington, D.C., but tests are still in short supply in many places.
“The availability is variable,” Carmen Wiley, PhD, president of the American Association for Clinical Chemistry, tells Elemental.
As of March 17, the CDC and state labs have processed around 33,000 tests, but that number doesn’t represent a full picture of the country’s total testing capacity. Other labs, including commercial and university-based labs, are coming…