UC Davis coronavirus case prompted change in criteria for testing, CDC director says
U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Robert Redfield told congressional leaders on Thursday that the individual being treated for the new coronavirus in Sacramento has prompted the agency to do more testing because it indicates there is community spread.
On Wednesday, the CDC confirmed that public health officials did not yet know how the individual being treated at UC Davis Medical Center contracted the respiratory illness, which causes coughing, fever and shortness of breath.
The CDC has been testing only travelers from China who have shown symptoms during 14 days of isolation and their close contacts or members of their health care team who show signs of the illness. The agency has faced criticism for not testing patients hospitalized for pneumonia who had not traveled to China.
“As soon as that case was recognized, we went and revised our definition,” said Redfield, testifying Thursday in the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Asia, the Pacific and Nonproliferation. “If a public official suspects coronavirus, then we should get a test for coronavirus. That updated guidance went out today.”
Redfield explained that the criteria would be changing after Rep. Ami Bera, D-Elk Grove, pressed him to reconsider the old standards for testing. Bera chairs the subcommittee.
The CDC website shows that they have added a criterion that allows testing when a person is hospitalized with a severe acute respiratory illness that has no other explanation.
The patient at UC Davis was admitted Feb. 19 and the hospital said the CDC did not immediately respond to a request to test the person for the new coronavirus.
“Since the patient did not fit the existing CDC criteria for COVID-19, a test was not immediately administered. UC Davis Health does not control the testing process,” hospital administrators said in a memo obtained by The Sacramento Bee.
Redfield also testified that part of what makes coronavirus difficult to recognize is that an infected person can spread the virus despite having only have mild symptoms like a scratchy throat or a dry cough. Infected people showing no symptoms also can spread the virus.
“There’s a significant portion of people who don’t have symptoms,” Redfield said. “That makes this more complicated.”
Containment of coronavirus is critical to keep hospitals from getting overwhelmed during an active flu season, Redfield said, and he estimated it would take a year to two years to develop a vaccine for the virus. China has found the disease difficult to contain. It has sickened roughly 78,500 people there and killed more than 2,640 in mainland China.
The CDC director also discouraged normal, healthy people from buying face masks, saying they should leave them for doctors and health professionals helping the infected, people sick with the virus and their family members.
“These masks need to be prioritized for those taking care of those individuals,” Redfield said.