UW lab expands coronavirus tests with its own version
After delays at the federal level, there’s a new test for coronavirus from University of Washington researchers.
Dr. Keith Jerome, head of virology at the UW School of Medicine, said Wednesday that the lab began using the test Monday and now is operating 24 hours a day.
He said it should be able process about 1,000 samples per day within a few days.
“We have plans to ramp that up to levels substantially beyond that should the demand require,” he said.
He said researchers began work shortly after they became aware of the outbreak at Wuhan, China at the beginning of the year.
“We decided at that point to have an assay available in the University of Washington system,” he said.
Federal officials have been criticized for being slow in providing test kits. The first kits provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Protection had defects, resulting in a delay of weeks in February.
More and more cases have been confirmed as testing has become available.
Jerome said academic and other labs around the country received a go-ahead from the Food and Drug Administration on Saturday to begin testing, and that began on Monday.
“We were very grateful when the change of policy from FDA enabled us to contribute our expertise,” he said.
But Jerome cautioned that there were still limits.
“All this testing still needs to be ordered by a physician or other qualified health care provider. And much of the purpose for that is to be sure that the testing that is available does go to those who most need it,” Jerome said.
“I know everyone would like to know 'do I have the virus?' right now. There’s simply not the capacity anywhere to do that kind of testing.”
Federal officials told a Senate hearing this week that it could be months before there could be any kind of on-demand testing.
In addition to allowing other labs to get involved, the federal government has relaxed the criteria for who can be tested.
"I think they restricted it in the first place because of testing capacity," Dr. Alex Greninger, an assistant professor at UW Medicine who worked on the test.
He said the arrival of more testing led to federal officials to expand the criteria.
"And also because people spoke up, and pushed back," he said.
State public health officials say people shouldn’t assume that if they develop a fever or cough, it’s COVID-19, the disease caused by coronavirus.
If you haven’t been around anyone confirmed with the disease, they say call your physician’s office for advice about whether you should be tested.
Watch the full press conference: