Earlier this week, Washingtonians could be forgiven for feeling like the mic was off when it came to their complaints about testing for the novel coronavirus. (Testing? Testing? One, two, three.)
But now that a lab at UW Medicine has been given the go-ahead to inspect specimens and can handle 1,000 tests per day, the state has the capacity to evaluate anyone with a doctor’s order. Washington plans to cover the costs of these tests for those without insurance.
Last week the Washington State Department of Health (DOH) announced that coronavirus tests would be sent to the state public health laboratory in Shoreline rather than to the CDC, which had bungled the initial distribution of kits, in Atlanta. The hope had been to speed up results and get ahead of the outbreak, but since then, nothing has quite gone according to plan.
The lab in Shoreline can run approximately 200 tests per day, but because tests must be run at least twice, they can process roughly 100 people per day. Originally, conditions to receive these tests were also narrowly defined. Patients must have either traveled to China in the last 14 days or been in contact with someone who had tested positive for the virus. As reported by The Stranger, many people with doctor’s orders to get tested were turned away from state hospitals.
Washington senator Patty Murray echoed the frustrations over these restrictions in a hearing on Tuesday with the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions. Murray was highly critical of the Trump Administration’s response to the outbreak, noting that her many upset and confused constituents had no way to know whether or not they had the virus.
Another CDC misstep helped lead to a loosening of testing guidelines. The agency initially declined to test a northern California woman who, it was later determined, carried the virus. Not only that, she turned out to be the first positive case who hadn’t come into contact with another infected person, indicating that the threat of the virus’s community transmission was higher than once thought.
Vice president Mike Pence, whom president Donald Trump named the head of the coronavirus response, said Tuesday that the CDC would be lifting the restrictions on testing, making them available to anyone, subject to doctor’s orders.
Finally, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration also announced that it would be working out agreements with lab partners to increase testing nationwide. UW Medicine was the first in this area to be announced.