Mar 17, 2020 - Health

Coronavirus testing is getting better

A health care worker at Carroll Hospital prepares to take samples from a person being tested for the coronavirus at a drive-thru station in the hospital's parking garag in Westminster, Maryland. Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

We're still not where we need to be, but America's coronavirus testing situation is getting better after major commercial laboratories have jumped in.

The big picture: "We expect more...than 1 million coming on board this week," Brett Giroir, assistant secretary for health at the Department of Health and Human Services, told reporters yesterday.

Driving the news: The Food and Drug Administration on Friday gave emergency clearance to tests made by Roche and Thermo Fisher — major diagnostics makers with high-volume capabilities.

  • Roche alone expects to manufacture 400,000 tests a week. Thermo Fischer says it has 1.5 million tests available, and will ramp up production to 5 million tests per week in April.
  • The FDA also released new guidance for test makers last night, making the rules more flexible with the intention of getting more tests up and running.

Yes, but: There are still concerns about shortages of the materials needed to make the tests.

"Drive-thru" testing areas are being set up across the country, which keeps patients who want to get tested out of hospitals.

  • This frees up emergency personnel to focus on trauma cases and coronavirus patients who need more intensive hospital care, while keeping potentially non-infected people out of areas where they could catch the virus.
  • Even if these centers have to send samples to commercial labs to process, which usually takes a few days, patients who aren't critically ill can self-quarantine at home while awaiting their results.

What they're saying: "In a pandemic situation like this, you really want to protect your health care workers. You don’t want to have people who are shedding virus but not seriously ill going to your emergency department, because they could infect people in your emergency department," said Gary Procop of the Cleveland Clinic, which is operating a drive-thru testing center.

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