July 7, 2020

As US grapples with coronavirus resurgence, testing again falls short

Daily Briefing

    As the number of U.S. deaths tied to the new coronavirus surpassed 130,000 on Monday and new cases of the virus continue to surge, many areas throughout the country are once again struggling to keep up with demand for coronavirus testing.

    US new coronavirus cases near 3M, deaths top 130K

    As of Tuesday morning, U.S. officials reported 2,958,000 total cases of the new coronavirus since the country's epidemic first began—up from 2,910,600 cases that were reported as of Monday morning.

    Data from the New York Times shows Guam, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, and 37 states saw their average daily numbers of newly reported coronavirus cases rise over the past 14 days: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming.

    Idaho and Texas on Monday each reported record-high single-day increases in new coronavirus cases, the Times reports.

    Many public officials and health experts say America's recent spike in new coronavirus cases stems from states moving too quickly to reopen nonessential businesses, lift stay-at-home orders, and relax social distancing measures that were intended to curb the virus' spread. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, during an interview on Monday with NIH Director Francis Collins said, "A series of circumstances associated with various states and cities trying to open up in the sense of getting back to some form of normality has led to a situation where we now have record-breaking cases."

    Fauci said he would not consider the current spikes in new coronavirus cases throughout the United States as a second "wave" of infections, but rather "a surge, or a resurgence of infections superimposed upon a baseline that really never got down to where we wanted to go." The United States is "knee-deep in the first wave" of the country's coronavirus epidemic, Fauci said.

    Meanwhile, the Times' data shows that the average daily numbers of newly reported cases over the past two weeks remained mostly stable in Arkansas, Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nebraska, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Utah, and Virginia.

    Washington, D.C., and New Hampshire saw their average daily numbers of newly confirmed cases decrease over the past 14 days, according to the Times' data.

    As of Tuesday morning, officials had reported a total of 130,332 U.S. deaths linked to the new coronavirus—up from 129,938 deaths reported as of Monday morning.

    As new cases spike, US again struggles to meet demand for coronavirus testing

    As the number of new coronavirus cases continues to surge throughout the country, HHS Assistant Secretary for Health Brett Giroir, who currently is serving as the Trump administration's coronavirus testing czar, on Wednesday warned that the country's testing capacity could become strained in states where officials are seeing spikes in infections and increasing their surveillance of transmission in nursing homes and jails.

    "It is absolutely correct that some labs across the country are reaching or near capacity," Giroir said.

    Private coronavirus test providers also are raising concerns about their abilities to keep up with the increased demand for testing. Although commercial labs have increased their coronavirus testing capabilities since America's epidemic first began, some companies have said the current surges in coronavirus outbreaks across the United States are beginning to overwhelm them.

    For instance, LabCorp and Quest Diagnostics last week each said they expect delays in their turnaround times for coronavirus test results. "With the recent increase in demand, results on average may take 1-2 days longer," LabCorp said.

    Separately, Quest said it may take an average of three to five days to produce results from non-priority tests, instead of an average of two to three days.

    Similarly, Roche Chair Christoph Franz during a recent interview with the Swiss daily newspaper Tages Anzeiger said the global demand for coronavirus tests is outpacing the company's ability to manufacture them. "[T]he demand exceeds our production," Franz said.

    Throughout the United States, state and local officials are reporting testing backlogs and limited testing supplies. For example, in Arizona, officials have noted that they do not have enough swabs needed to collect patient samples for coronavirus tests. And in New Orleans, Jennifer Avegno, director of the city's health department, said Louisiana is experiencing a shortage of the reagents needed to complete coronavirus tests.

    To conserve their resources, some local officials have set limits on coronavirus testing. In San Antonio, for example, officials are restricting testing for the virus to people who are showing symptoms of Covid-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus. In Idaho, state officials have notified nursing homes and long-term care facilities that the state could not meet their testing needs because of the recent rise in testing demand.

    According to the Associated Press, coronavirus tests are particularly difficult to access in low-income Hispanic and Black neighborhoods throughout America.

    "Pandemics expose the inequalities in our health care system," said Thomas Tsai, an assistant professor at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and a surgeon at Brigham and Women's Hospital. "Outreach to the Hispanic population, the Black community, to immigrants, the most vulnerable, unprotected people is critical for public health."

    Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego (D) said the country "needs a more robust national testing strategy" to address the shortfalls and disparities (Sullivan, The Hill, 7/6; Behrmann, USA Today, 7/6; Dukakis, ABC News, 7/1; Mervosh/Fernandez, New York Times, 7/6; Snow, Associated Press, 7/6; Halftermeyer, Bloomberg, 6/27; Lim, Politico, 7/1; New York Times, 7/7 [1]; New York Times, 7/7 [2]).

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