As coronavirus continues its spread across the U.S., public health officials are racing to make more test kits available and laboratories are working around the clock to test for the virus that has killed more than a dozen people in the U.S. and infected more than 230.
The federal agency in charge of testing efforts, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is under fire for what one top national health official told CNN Friday were “missteps” that slowed efforts to contain the virus.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said testing by the CDC got off to a “slow start.”
Here’s what to know about coronavirus test kits:
How do I get a coronavirus test?
If you’re not quarantined on an air base or cruise ship, the only way to get a coronavirus test is through a healthcare professional, according to the National Institutes of Health website.
If you have a fever, develop virus symptoms, have recently traveled to an area with an ongoing spread of the virus or have come into contact with a person who is known to have it, call your doctor. You may be asked to wear a mask to the office.
If your doctor thinks you might have the coronavirus, he or she will contact the CDC or your local health department for instructions on testing.
How many coronavirus test kits does the US have?
Fauci told ABC News Sunday there are 75,000 virus test kits in the United States, but that number will “radically” increase in the next couple of weeks.
On Thursday, Vice President MIke Pence said the U.S. did not have enough tests “to meet what we anticipate will be the demand going forward.” But the vice president said kits for 1.2 million should be available next week, the BBC reported
How many labs are doing the tests?
According to the Association of Public Health Laboratories, there are 69 local and state public health labs that cover 46 states, including Washington D.C.
The five states that await lab verification are Wyoming, Oklahoma, Alabama, Ohio and West Virginia. There are 12 additional labs in the verification progress, three of which should be testing by the weekend.
When all the selected labs have been verified, there will be 100 local and state public health labs testing, with a potential testing capacity of 10,000 tests per day.
A few private companies are also testing.
LabCorp developed its own test and began testing Thursday. According to the company, the new test detects the presence of the underlying virus that causes COVID-19.
Quest Diagnostics said it can start receiving samples from doctors for testing on Monday. It’s unclear if only select labs or all labs will be testing. The company didn’t immediately respond to USA TODAY’s request for comment.
What is a presumptive positive test?
Now that state and some local public health labs have access to CDC test kits for coronavirus, they are conducting tests and reporting results directly to doctors, patients and the public. When these tests detect coronavirus, cases are considered “presumptive positive” until the CDC confirms results.
States can quickly act when a person has coronavirus, including ensuring an infected individual gets appropriate health care as well as tracing all of the person’s contacts. This allows public health officials to alert people who might have been exposed to coronavirus while also seeking to slow new infections.
The Food and Drug Administration also has expanded access to private, commercially-manufactured tests so hospitals and doctors can more quickly access tests. Because these tests are authorized by the FDA, the CDC does not confirm positive results from these commercial tests. Still, the information can help doctors and public health officials take action as needed.
Commercials tests “will be a tool in the toolbox of clinicians in clinics and in hospitals that they can use based on clinical suspicion to test their patients,” said Nancy Messonnier, director of CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases.
Why was the coronavirus test so hard to get initially?
The CDC initially chose to develop its own test based on genetic sequencing of the coronavirus initially reported by scientists in China, where the outbreak was first detected. The test measured tiny DNA samples to confirm whether a person is infected with novel coronavirus, or COVID-19. But soon after the tests were shipped in early February, states had trouble validating one of three components in the CDC’s test kits. States could not confirm the test results. The flaw delayed rapid testing among state and local labs, just as the deadly respiratory virus gained a foothold among infected travelers returning to the United States.
The CDC reviewed the glitch and concluded using two components could accurately detect coronavirus. The CDC began making kits with two components and sharing those kits with states and local public health laboratories.
The CDC had a rocky start. Why?
The test kit could have been in use earlier if the CDC had used one initially developed by the World Health Organization. Instead, the CDC raced to develop its own, and one that could do more than the WHO test, according to public health officials and news reports.
Kelly Wroblewski, director of infectious diseases at the Association of Public Health Laboratories, said both tests were “being developed simultaneously.”
“During any infectious disease response, scientists all over the world work simultaneously to develop tests,” she said. “The CDC and WHO protocols were first published about a week apart.”
Dr. Joshua Sharfstein, who is a former health secretary of Maryland and top Food and Drug Administration official said, “Figuring out what went wrong will require an investigation and help CDC make sure it does not happen again
Experts worry we now have limited insight into the spread of the virus. People who should be tested because they may have coronavirus weren’t. “The gaps in testing have slowed down control efforts,” said Sharfstein, now a public health professor and vice dean at Johns Hopkins University.
Experts say CDC wanted to make sure the results during surveillance and containment results were accurate, but some think the centers should have been focusing on mitigation and allowing the use of far more labs for clinical care.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Coronavirus test kit: How can I get tested in US for COVID-19 virus?