The new guidance issued by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Wednesday formalizes an announcement by Vice President Mike Pence that any American with a doctor’s order can be tested with no restrictions.
It removes earlier restrictions that limited testing for the virus to people who’d been hospitalized with a fever and respiratory symptoms — or a patient who had close contact with a confirmed coronavirus patient.
Clinicians should now “use their judgment to determine if a patient has signs and symptoms compatible with … (coronavirus) and whether the patient should be tested,” the CDC said.
Experts have questioned whether the United States can meet the likely surge in testing demand that will follow the change in guidelines.
Two coronavirus tests in the United States have FDA emergency use authorizations and are in use nationwide. They are the CDC test kits that distributed to public health laboratories across the country — and another test designed and used by New York state.
Number of cases grows nationwide
There are now at least 159 known coronavirus cases across 15 states, most of them in California and Washington states.
A cruise ship passenger died from the coronavirus Wednesday, nearly two weeks after he returned home — California’s first death as the disease sickens people in 15 states.
The death reported was linked to the Grand Princess cruise ship, which is being held off the California coast so federal health officials can screen the people aboard, some of whom were on an earlier cruise with the California victim.
The unidentified man was 71 and had underlying health conditions, Placer County health officials said. He was likely exposed to the virus on the cruise from San Francisco to Mexico between February 11 to 21.
After the Grand Princess finished its Mexico trip last month, it went on another cruise to Hawaii and is on its way back. There are 62 passengers on the ship who sailed on that San Francisco-Mexico voyage and remained on board for the current Hawaii one, the company said.
“We have shared essential travel and health data with the CDC to facilitate their standard notification to the state and county health authorities to follow up with individuals who may have been exposed to people who became ill,” Princess Cruises said in a statement.
To screen passengers, the US Coast Guard will deliver sampling kits to the ship Thursday via helicopter, and a medical team aboard will administer the tests. The samples will be sent by helicopter to a lab in Richmond, California, Princess Cruises said.
There are 11 passengers and 10 crew members who’ve developed symptoms Gov. Gavin Newsom said. The ship is carrying 2,500 passengers.
The governor declared a state of emergency, which allows for more money to be allocated for the state’s response.
Washington state is hard-hit
Of the deaths nationwide, 10 have been in Washington state. Nine of those deaths happened in King County, and a majority of them had ties to Life Care Center, a long-term nursing home in a Seattle suburb.
The nursing home’s outbreak and a series of new cases over the past few days in states such as Florida, Georgia and Rhode Island have heightened concerns among health care experts, said Nancy Messonnier, director of CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases.
“As more areas see community spread, local communities may start employing tools that encourage social distancing,” Messonnier said.
“The goal of social distancing is to limit exposure by reducing face-to-face contact and preventing spread among people in community settings.”
A large number of cases are from a cruise ship
The nationwide number of infected people includes 46 repatriated citizens from the Diamond Princess cruise ship — which docked in Japan last month after an outbreak and quarantine — as well as three people repatriated from Wuhan, China, the epicenter of the outbreak.
Texas has announced its first case, a patient from near Houston who is in his 70s and recently traveled overseas. He is hospitalized.
The number of US cases has continued to rise since health officials allowed more labs to conduct tests for the virus.
Public health labs across the country using CDC test kits are expected to test up to 75,000 people by the end of the week, the CDC said. That’s on top of the nearly 1 million people expected to be tested through commercial labs approved for testing by the US Food and Drug Administration.