Coronavirus Diagnosis in California Highlights Testing Flaws

Experts are perplexed by the C.D.C.’s inability to fix the flaws altogether.

“The obvious observation is that many countries are capable of testing rather widely,” said Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease specialist at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. “Why can’t we?”

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There has been frustration, too, among officials at the Department of Health and Human Services, who have believed for a while that the C.D.C. should be testing for the virus much more broadly, according to one person briefed on the matter.

The C.D.C. operates two laboratories that test for the coronavirus and can handle approximately 400 specimens per day. Agency officials say there is no testing backlog, but it is unclear whether the labs will be able to keep up with demand if the need — and eligibility — increases testing substantially.

Under the new federal criteria, people with respiratory symptoms who traveled to Iran, Italy, Japan and South Korea should be tested — not just those who traveled in China. So should severely ill patients with acute lower respiratory symptoms who are hospitalized and in whom other diagnoses have been ruled out.

A criticism of the new criteria, however, is that doctors will have to wait until someone is extremely ill to test for the virus if that person did not travel to the affected regions or have contact with a known case.

“If we could identify these people earlier who don’t specifically meet one of the two criteria, or some sort of broader travel criteria, we could get them tested,” Ms. Sauer said. “You have to wait until someone’s really sick to push that test now, even with this new criteria.

Kenneth E. Raske, president of the Greater New York Hospital Association, said he planned to appeal to Vice President Mike Pence on behalf of chief executives of major health care institutions in the New York area “to order the C.D.C. to develop a rapid point of care test” that hospitals could use to screen patients.