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Federal government announces major fast-tracking of coronavirus testing capabilities

'We are increasing the speed definitely by a factor of 10'

Drew Angerer/Getty Images

The Food and Drug Administration announced that it has approved a new coronavirus test that will increase the ability to test patients who are suspected to be battling the COVID-19 illness by a factor of 10.

According to Bloomberg, the FDA granted "emergency use authorization" to the coronavirus test, which will run on Roche Holding AG's cobas 6800/8800 systems. The 8800 system is said to be able to test up to 4,128 patients per day, with the 6800 version able to examine as many as 1,440.

'We are increasing the speed definitely by a factor of 10'

Thomas Schinecker, head of the Switzerland-based Roche's diagnostics unit, told Bloomberg the Swiss health care company is "increasing the speed [of testing] definitely by a factor of 10."

Health experts describe the widespread availability of testing as crucial to combatting COVID-19 because it allows health care professionals to track the spread of the illness, identify newly infected patients, and quarantine them. Public health professionals say expanding America's coronavirus testing capabilities can reduce the number of infections and mitigate stress on the country's hospital and health systems. In the long-run, this buys virologists and pharmaceutical companies more time to develop better treatments to combat the illness.

Bloomberg reports this is the third test, and the first one available for commercial distribution, to be granted emergency approval by the FDA. In February, the agency granted approval to diagnostic tools by the CDC and the New York State Department of Public Health.

Roche is helping to 'significantly' extend the testing capacity

On its website, Roche says its cobas 6800 were designed for "high throughput applications such as viral load IVD monitoring, blood screening, microbiology testing," and that they "can run up to 384 tests in an 8-hour shift — 1,536 tests in 24 hours — with only 3 user interactions per run and up to 8 hours of walk-away time."

Bloomberg reports that Roche launched its cobas systems in 2014 and that 695 of the 6800 models and 132 of the 8800 models have already been installed around the world. The news organization said the U.S. currently has 110 of these systems installed in the U.S. and that there are a "significant amount" of new ones throughout the United States.

"We definitely extended the capacity of the testing significantly throughout the U.S," Schinecker told Bloomberg.

As of Friday afternoon, there have been over 145,000 confirmed coronavirus cases confirmed around the world with 5,408 deaths resulting from the outbreak that began in Wuhan, China, in December 2019.

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