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Coronavirus probe at California nursing home slowed by shortage of test kits

(Reuters) – A shortage of coronavirus testing kits is complicating efforts by California health officials to monitor a potential outbreak of the disease at nursing home where an elderly woman died from the infectious disease this week, authorities said on Wednesday.

FILE PHOTO: A computer image created by Nexu Science Communication together with Trinity College in Dublin, shows a model structurally representative of a betacoronavirus which is the type of virus linked to COVID-19, better known as the coronavirus linked to the Wuhan outbreak, shared with Reuters on February 18, 2020. NEXU Science Communication/via REUTERS

The difficulties come as regulatory hurdles at the federal and state level as well as logistical and technical challenges have slowed the rollout of testing kits across the United States, according to healthcare providers, public health officials and test makers.

The California woman in her 90s, who died at an assisted living facility in the Sacramento suburb of Elk Grove, is one of four virus-related fatalities in the state and the first in a long-term care home.

None of the facility’s other 143 patients are yet suspected being infected, said Dr. Peter Beilenson, director of Sacramento County’s Department of Health Services. But he said local authorities could not test them all immediately because they had been allocated only 20 kits per day by federal agencies.

“We’re using our own tests and California state tests to test as many patients as possible,” Beilenson said, adding that there may not be enough to cover everyone.

“This is very rapidly happening, we found out about her passing yesterday.”

It was not yet clear how the woman contracted COVID-19, Beilenson said, because she had not recently been overseas, although it was possible she was visited by someone who had.

Nursing homes and other long-term care facilities, where patients tend to be more vulnerable to illness, have proven particularly susceptible to outbreaks of COVID-19.

California marked its fourth fatality on Wednesday with the announcement in Los Angeles County of the death of a woman in her 60s who had also been suffering from an underlying health condition. The woman had a history of extensive travel during the past month, including a long layover in South Korea, one of the hotspots of the global pandemic, officials said.

More than 1,000 cases of COVID-19 have now been reported in the United States, including 32 deaths.

Reporting by Dan Whitcomb in Los Angeles; Additional reporting by Steve Gorman; editing by Bill Tarrant and Tom Brown

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