Medics wheel out a person on a stretcher from the Life Care Center of Kirkland, a long-term care facility linked to several confirmed coronavirus cases, in Kirkland, Washington, U.S. March 4, 2020. REUTERS/Lindsey Wasson
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. health officials said on Thursday they expect to be able to get enough coronavirus tests to public laboratories this week to test about 400,000 people, and acknowledged the challenge for doctors seeking to get patients screened for the disease.
Officials expect to ship additional test kits to cover between 1.5 and 1.7 million people by the end of next week, U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar told reporters.
“Right now, it is a challenge if you are a doctor wanting to get somebody tested,” Azar said, following a briefing with lawmakers, adding that physicians could only reach out to a limited network of public health labs.
“That experience will get better over the next week, week and a half, two weeks. But do not be surprised if you hear concerns of doctors saying: ‘I have a patient. I don’t know how to get this done,’” Azar told reporters.
The private contractor that makes the test used by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for public labs – privately held Integrated DNA Technologies Inc, or IDT – is seeking to get its test to hospitals and other labs for wider use in the coming days.
Separately, other HHS officials offered a lower expected rate of mortality from the coronavirus than that estimated by the World Health Organizations, saying it was hard to quantify because many people with the disease do not experience severe enough symptoms to get tested.
The best estimate of the overall mortality rate from the novel coronavirus lies somewhere between 0.1% and 1%, U.S. Assistant Secretary for Health Brett Giroir said.
The WHO this week said about 3.4% of confirmed cases of COVID-19 have died.
Reporting by David Morgan and Lisa Lambert; Writing by Tim Ahmann and Susan Heavey; Editing by Bernadette Baum