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Whistleblower Complaint, California Case Spur Changes in CDC Coronavirus Testing Efforts

Latest Infectious Disease News

By Robin Foster and E.J. Mundell
HealthDay Reporter

FRIDAY, Feb. 28, 2020 (HealthDay News) — Just how prepared the United States is to quell an outbreak of coronavirus on American soil came into question on Thursday, as federal officials changed guidelines for testing after a whistleblower complaint.

The complaint claimed some federal health workers had been allowed to interact with quarantined Americans without proper training or protective gear.

Another issue emerged after the first U.S. case of coronavirus of an unknown origin surfaced in northern California on Wednesday. State officials there scrambled to track down anyone who might have come into contact with the woman, who arrived at UC Davis Medical Center from another hospital on ventilator support.

State and federal officials disagree on how long it took to get approval to test the woman, the Associated Press reported. But one hospital memo claims that hospital officials couldn’t get approval to test the woman for four days because she didn’t meet strict testing criteria. Those criteria included travel to China or exposure to someone who had traveled to China.

The case is suspected to be the first instance of community spread of the virus in the United States.

“This was a clear gap in our preparedness, and the virus went right through the gap,” Dr. Ali Khan, dean of the University of Nebraska College of Public Health, told the AP.

So, late Thursday, the U.S. Centers of Disease Control and Prevention moved to close that “preparedness gap” by broadening its testing guidelines. Adding to the problem, state and local health officials say they don’t have enough testing kits, as the first batch the CDC sent out to state and local health departments were flawed, and new ones are still being manufactured.

In Thursday’s whistleblower complaint, a top official at the Department of Health and Human Services said workers from the agency were not tested after being exposed to quarantined evacuees without full protective gear. Some of those workers flew back home on commercial airlines, the complaint said.

Meanwhile, schools across America are canceling trips abroad and preparing online courses as they brace for the possibility that coronavirus could spread into their communities, the AP reported. Many are also preparing for possible school closures that could stretch for weeks or longer.

On Wednesday, President Donald Trump tapped Vice President Mike Pence to lead the U.S. response to a potential coronavirus pandemic.

There have now been 60 coronavirus cases confirmed in the United States. Nearly all were contracted abroad through travel, and all having been placed under strict quarantine.

Internationally, hopes of containing the coronavirus are fading fast, as stock markets around the world plummeted on Thursday and a run on face masks threatened to trigger a shortage.

The total number of cases globally has now passed 83,000 and nearly 3,000 have died.

South Korea and Iran are each battling major outbreaks of COVID-19. In Europe, a similar fight is raging in Italy, even as new cases were recorded in Austria, Croatia, France, Germany, Greece and Spain, The New York Times reported. Most of those cases have been tied to travel to Italy, which is struggling to contain an outbreak that has been centered in the northern part of the country. In Japan, a state of emergency was declared Friday in a northern province because of the growing number of coronavirus cases there, the AP reported.

On Wednesday, Brazil announced that it had identified the first case of COVID-19 in Latin America. That means there are now cases on all continents except Antarctica.

In Wednesday’s press conference in which Trump appointed Pence to head the U.S. response to coronavirus Dr. Anne Schuchat, principal deputy director of the CDC, reminded Americans that the best way to protect themselves and others is to take the same sort of precautions as they would during cold and flu season.

“It’s spread through coughs and sneezes, and so those everyday sensible measures we tell people to do every year with the flu are important here — covering your cough, staying home when you’re sick and washing your hands,” Schuchat said. “Tried and true, not very exciting measures, but really important ways you can prevent the spread of respiratory viruses.”

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SOURCES: Feb. 26, 2020, media briefing with: President Donald Trump; Vice President Mike Pence; U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar; Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Principal Deputy Director Anne Schuchat, M.D.; Anthony Fauci, M.D., director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases; Associated Press; New York Times