The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention botched the crucial rollout of COVID-19 tests in February, sending tests contaminated with the coronavirus to states at a time when the virus could've potentially been better contained without widespread lockdowns, the New York Times reported.
"It was just tragic," said Scott Becker, executive director of the Association of Public Health Laboratories, according to the Times. "All that time when we were sitting there waiting, I really felt like, here we were at one of the most critical junctures in public health history, and the biggest tool in our toolbox was missing."
How did this happen? The tests were contaminated due to "sloppy laboratory practices," the Times reported, including employees entering and exiting labs without changing their coats, and tests being assembled in the same room where other researchers were working on positive coronavirus samples.
The CDC has admitted that it did not follow its own manufacturing standards with the tests, and said enhanced quality control measures have been put in place since the errors.
What was the result? Because of the contamination, many of the tests sent to states during that crucial early period of the coronavirus outbreak did not produce conclusive results.
Public health labs began receiving tests from the CDC on Feb. 7. The first known COVID-19 death in the United States occurred on Feb. 6. Although the availability of testing has improved some over the past two months, an inability to widely test the population has been possibly the greatest obstacle to an effective, targeted pandemic response.
The U.S. has had more than 800,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases, and antibody research increasingly indicates that the true number of cases could be many times higher than the current confirmed tally. The U.S. has a relatively low COVID-19 detection rate due to scarce availability of reliable tests.
(H/T: Ars Technica)