US coronavirus testing on the rise, but capacity remains limited

(WASHINGTON) — As state and federal officials race to mitigate the spread of novel coronavirus, an ABC News analysis of all 50 states, Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico indicates more than 5,000 tests for the disease have been administered across the country — a figure that continues to sharply rise as testing kits become more readily available.

Officials in Washington, the state hit hardest by the virus thus far, have tested more than 1,300 patients. California has tested more than 900 patients, while Florida, Oregon, New York, Illinois, Colorado and Texas have each tested more than 100 patients.

At least 5,539 tests had been administered as of Thursday afternoon. Of those tested, 808 cases returned positive, according to Johns Hopkins University, which is tracking reports and confirming them with local health departments.

The novel coronavirus outbreak began in Wuhan, China, in late December, and has since sickened more than 116,000 people worldwide and killed thousands, primarily in mainland China, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. More than half — some 62,000 of those — have already recovered, the university said.

The new figures in the U.S. suggest an increased capacity for testing. But experts say it’s still not enough, with local officials continuing to scramble for additional tests.

“While testing options for COVID-19 have expanded, there still is frustration and concern that we don’t have enough,” one county health department in Washington tweeted on Tuesday.

Dr. Todd Ellerin, chief of infectious diseases at South Shore Health in Weymouth, Massachusetts, told ABC News there are “hundreds of thousands” more patients who should be tested but cannot because of capacity limitations.

“The state labs don’t have the ability to process an unlimited number of tests,” Ellerin said. “And the number of patients with flu-like illness who are testing negative for flu and negative for the respiratory virus panel far exceeds what that capacity is.”

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Robert Redfield told lawmakers Tuesday on Capitol Hill that commercial laboratories Quest Diagnostic and LabCorps are now capable of administering tests — but expressed frustration at the commercial entities’ slow response to the crisis.

“I would have loved the private sector to be fully engaged eight weeks ago,” Redfield said. “We’re trying to get it all together.”

Even so, there remains no point-of-care test available, meaning providers like CVS MinuteClinic cannot test for the disease.

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