US coronavirus cases reach 1,000 as millions more testing kits are on the way to labs across the country

New York Times correspondent Dr. Sheri Fink details a report she co-authored that alleges a private lab in the Seattle area ran into federal and state administrative roadblocks as it tried to test for the coronavirus after the first cases were reported in the US.

Health officials are calling for “all hands on deck” in communities across the US as coronavirus cases reached 1,000 and millions more testing kits are on the way to labs across the country.

The appeal comes as the federal government prepares to release specific recommendations on next steps for the areas hardest hit by the outbreak, including California, Washington state, New York and Florida.

Cases of the virus have been reported in 37 states and the District of Columbia. As it spreads, universities across the country have announced plans to temporarily shut down campuses in favor of online lessons, festivals and concerts from coast to coast have been postponed and local leaders are urging more companies to let their employees work from home.

“It doesn’t matter if you’re in a state that has no cases or one case,” said Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. “Everybody should say, ‘All hands on deck. This is what we need to do.'”

Hard-hit areas work to curb spread

In one of the most sweeping measures, California’s Santa Clara County — where dozens of people have tested positive for the virus — said it was temporarily banning gatherings of more than 1,000 people.

Washington state Gov. Jay Inslee is expected to announce Wednesday restrictions in gatherings of more than 250 in King, Snohomish and Pierce counties, according to the Seattle Times. The restrictions are aimed at sports, concerts and other cultural events, the newspaper reported.

King County, the largest county in the state, is home to more than 2.2 million people.

It’s also where 190 people have been infected with the virus and at least 22 have died. County officials urged residents to “avoid bringing large groups of people together, consider postponing events and gatherings.”

The virus has killed 24 people overall in Washington state, and 31 across the country.

Addressing another cluster of cases, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo declared a 1-mile “containment” area around the suburb of New Rochelle where more than 100 cases are concentrated and announced he was deploying the National Guard to help clean public spaces and deliver food to homes.

More tests on the way

And as states are working to contain the virus, health officials are ramping up efforts to test more Americans.

Vice President Mike Pence said Monday another four million tests would be available by the end of the week, on top of at least a million tests already in place across the country.

US Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said his department didn’t know how many people have been tested.

“We don’t know exactly how many, because hundreds of thousands of our tests have gone out to private labs and hospitals that currently do not report in” to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Azar told CNN’s “New Day.”

Azar said the government was now working with the CDC to create a reporting system to help “keep track of how many we’re testing.”

Meanwhile, officials with the CDC are also continuing to face scrutiny over slow testing procedures which critics say contributed to a delayed response to the virus.

Researchers found virus was spreading sooner than officials thought

A delay in testing for the virus came after the CDC had to remake a part of the testing kits sent out to tests after some were deemed faulty. It wasn’t until this week that public health labs in all 50 states were able to test for the virus. The 78 labs have the ability to test 75,000 people combined, the CDC said Monday.

“If we had the ability to test earlier, I’m sure we would’ve identified patients earlier in the community, possibly at hospitals,” Jeffrey Duchin, health officer for Seattle and King County, said last month. “But we were also looking at not only availability of testing but whether patients met criteria for testing.”

Dr. Helen Y. Chu and a team of scientists with the Seattle Flu Study also hypothesized the virus was circulating in Washington state for days without anyone realizing it. The team re-purposed influenza tests to instead look for coronavirus, without government approval, The New York Times reported.

The study found a positive coronavirus test from a teen who had no travel history and who hadn’t been to any areas where there had been an outbreak, showing the virus was spreading in the community earlier than officials thought.

Early Wednesday, the Seattle Flu Study Twitter account posted a statement by Lead Principal Investigator Dr. Jay Shendure saying in part, “In the face of this unprecedented health threat, there are times when we have all felt the need to move fast in an effort to save lives.”

“We are actively working and have had good cooperation with local, state, and national health authorities on the response to COVID-19. Our team is productively collaborating with state regulators and has identified a path forward that will allow us to continue testing,” the statement said. “This collaboration will be crucial to helping us overcome the current challenge and putting in place a strong foundation for the future.”

Cruise ships propose new guidelines to government

Also Wednesday, some passengers from the Grand Princess cruise ship arrived at the Dobbins Air Reserve Base in Georgia to begin their quarantine. The ship docked this week in Oakland, California, following an outbreak of the virus on board.

The more than 2,000 passengers will be placed in quarantine at multiple military bases for two weeks.

The Grand Princess was one of two sites of an outbreak at sea. The first one, the Diamond Princess Cruise ship which was docked at the port city of Yokohama, Japan in February, saw at least 46 Americans test positive for the virus and repatriated to the US for quarantine.

Pence said Tuesday the cruise line industry had submitted a proposal to include measures such as advanced screening and upgraded medical services aboard each ship.

His announcement follows advisories issued by the State Department and the CDC warning Americans with underlying health conditions not to board cruise ships.

“Recent reports of COVID-19 on cruise ships highlight the risk of infection to cruise ship passengers and crew. Like many other viruses, COVID-19 appears to spread more easily between people in close quarters aboard ships,” the CDC said.

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