Mar 23, 2020 - Health

The gaping holes in U.S. coronavirus testing strategy

Sen. Rand Paul. Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

The Trump administration is urging commercial labs to prioritize testing inpatients for the novel coronavirus, Vice President Mike Pence said Sunday, a reflection of how we're prioritizing America's woefully inadequate supply of diagnostic tests.

Why it matters: A high-profile example of the pitfalls of this strategy — which essentially means that only the sickest patients get tested — is Sen. Rand Paul's positive diagnosis. Paul is asymptomatic, but recently was in close contact with other senators, leading them to self-quarantine.

  • That's how this is supposed to work; it cuts off the virus's line of transmission by keeping everyone who has been exposed quarantined at home. But it's impossible to do this across the population when we don't know who is infected.
  • Our next-best option is for everyone to stay home and assume that they have the virus. But plenty of people have been ignoring social distancing guidance.

The big picture: As researchers learn more about the virus, it's becoming more apparent that asymptomatic carriers are likely important to its spread.

The latest: Our testing issues are no longer about a lack of labs making them. The latest problem is that even as our testing capability ramps up, we face shortages of the supplies used to make and conduct the tests.

  • There are also concerns that people seeking tests who aren't severely ill will waste resources beyond the tests themselves, like personal protective equipment, and expose non-infected people.

What they're saying: "We are in a new phase of this fight. Only one thing matters now: treatment of the gravely ill," tweeted Mark Levin, chair of New York City Council health committee.

Go deeper ... Report: Data suggests 33% of coronavirus cases in China were asymptomatic

Go deeper

U.S. coronavirus updates: Death toll passes 9,600

Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins; Map: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

Recorded deaths from the novel coronavirus surpassed 9,600 in the U.S. Sunday night, per Johns Hopkins data. The death toll in the U.S. has risen over 1,000 every day since April 1.

Why it matters: U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams said on Sunday this upcoming week will be "the hardest and saddest week of most Americans' lives" — calling it our "our Pearl Harbor, our 9/11 moment."

Go deeperArrowUpdated 4 hours ago - Health

Cuomo says New York is "literally going day-to-day with our supplies"

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said in a press conference on Sunday that New York is struggling to maintain medical supplies while combatting the novel coronavirus — operating "literally" on a "day-to-day" basis.

Why it matters: New York City has become an epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak, facing mass quarantines and stay-at-home orders. Cuomo said Saturday that New York reported 630 new deaths in 24 hours — an "all-time increase" that beat the previous day's record of 562 deaths.

CDC launches hospitalization and coronavirus fatality trackers

A medical worker at Wyckoff Hospital in Brooklyn on April 4. Photo: Bryan R. Smith/AFP via Getty Images

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention launched two new national tracking tools for the novel coronavirus in the U.S. on Saturday — one to monitor fatalities and another for hospitalizations.

Why it matters: The coronavirus testing kit shortage has challenged public health experts' ability to understand the scope of the outbreak in the U.S., NPR reports. States have scrambled to produce their own systems and monitor the data.

Go deeperArrowApr 4, 2020 - Health