Travelers wearing masks arrive on a direct flight from China, after a spokesman from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said a traveller from China had been the first person in the United States to be diagnosed with the Wuhan coronavirus, at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport in SeaTac, Washington, January 23, 2020.
David Ryder | Reuters
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said it revised its guidelines on Thursday to allow clinicians across the U.S. to test more people suspected of carrying the new coronavirus.
Under the prior federal guidelines, clinicians could test suspected COVID-19 patients if they had traveled recently from China or had been in contact with someone known to be infected. Some lawmakers criticized the CDC’s previous guidance as too restrictive.
The new guidelines, which were posted to the CDC’s website Thursday, appear to place more power in the hands of local health practitioners to determine who should get tested.
“We revised our case definition for persons under investigation and today that has been posted along with a new health advisory,” Director of the CDC Dr. Robert Redfield told a House of Representatives subcommittee Thursday. “When a clinician or public health individual suspects coronavirus then we should be able to get a test for coronavirus.”
The news comes after the CDC confirmed on Wednesday the first apparent case of community transmission in the U.S., a troubling sign that the virus could be spreading unknown in local cities and towns.
Rep. Ted Lieu, D-Calif., cited that case as an example of a suspected patient whose testing was delayed due to the prior federal guidance. He added that the prior guidance “seems to make not a lot of sense to me.”
“So this person in Northern California, who didn’t travel to China, who we don’t know where he got the coronavirus, he could have passed it on to two more people, who passed it on to two more people, who passed it on to two more people,” he told the congressional subcommittee on Asia, the Pacific, and Nonproliferation. “So there could be a whole cluster of cases, but until as of yesterday, we don’t know because we weren’t testing anyone who didn’t travel to China.”
Representatives for the CDC were not immediately available for comment on why they changed the guidelines.
Beyond the federal guidance for whose eligible to receive testing for the coronavirus, epidemiologists and public health officials have raised questions about the U.S. capacity to conduct tests amid a potential epidemic in the U.S.
California Governor Gavin Newsom said Thursday that the state is currently monitoring more than 8,400 people for the coronavirus.
In answering a question about why California wasn’t more prepared to test the patient sooner, Gavin said: “No state was, no state had the ability to access” the tests.
This is a developing story. Please check back for updates.