All but six states are now testing for the new coronavirus as two large commercial laboratories announced plans to test for the new virus, adding to the national capacity as the number of cases continues to rise.
Sixty-seven public health laboratories across the country are offering testing for the new virus, up from just eight a week ago, Association of Public Health Laboratories CEO Scott Becker said on Thursday. At least one lab in 44 states have successfully verified test kits and are offering diagnostic testing for COVID-19, the disease the virus causes, according to the association, which represents state and local labs across the country.
Maine, Ohio, West Virginia, Alabama, Oklahoma, Wyoming, the territory of Guam, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico are still working on getting tests up and running.
Thirteen laboratories are working on verifying the kits they received. Four anticipate being able to test by the weekend, Becker said in a statement.
Public health labs are just now coming online because test kits the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) sent out in early February had an issue that caused weeks of delay. The issue was finally resolved last week.
LabCorp and Quest Diagnostics are among the commercial labs planning to launch tests soon for the new virus. Quest said on Thursday it will be able to test beginning on March 9. The test is a molecular based assay which detects viral RNA in respiratory specimens. It will be reviewed by the Food and Drug Administration under its emergency use authorization.
“In times of national health crises, quality laboratory testing is absolutely critical to mobilizing effective public health response,” said Steve Rusckowski, CEO of the New Jersey-based company, in a statement.
Quest’s tests will help complement efforts by the federal government and public health labs “to contend with a growing number of suspected COVID-19 cases in the United States,” Rusckowski said.
LabCorp, a North Carolina-based company, said earlier this week that it’s preparing to make a test available. The tests are in the final stage of validation and should be launched at the end of this week or the beginning of next week, Adam Schechter, CEO of LabCorp, told Vice President Mike Pence in Washington on Wednesday.
Pence, the head of the Coronavirus Task Force, met with developers of private lab tests in a bid to quickly ramp up capacity just days after he said anyone could be tested for the new virus, subject to an order from a doctor. Previously, the tests were limited to patients who met the case definition from the CDC.
“Our objective is to make tests available broadly to the American public,” he told developers.
“We want to make sure the American people can go to their doctor, can go to the local MedCheck or CVS, and obtain access to coronavirus [tests].”
With the help of the private developers, Pence said millions of tests would be available in the coming weeks. The federal government has already distributed 2,500 test kits to labs, he said. Each kit can test hundreds of patients.