De­mands for virus test­ing grow as toll rises

The Kansas City Star - - Front Page - BY GENE JOHNSON AND CARLA K. JOHNSON

Ten­sions over how to con­tain the coro­n­avirus es­ca­lated Tues­day in the United States as the death toll climbed to nine and law­mak­ers ex­pressed doubts about the gov­ern­ment’s abil­ity to ramp up test­ing fast enough to deal with the cri­sis.

All of the deaths have oc­curred in Wash­ing­ton state, and most were res­i­dents of a nurs­ing home in sub­ur­ban Seat­tle. The num­ber of in­fec­tions in the U.S. over­all climbed past 100, scat­tered across at least 15 states, with 27 cases in Wash­ing­ton alone.

“What is hap­pen­ing now in the United States may be the be­gin­ning of what is hap­pen­ing abroad,” said Dr. Nancy

Mes­son­nier of the Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol and Pre­ven­tion, not­ing that in China, where the out­break be­gan more than two months ago, older and sicker peo­ple are about twice as likely to be­come se­ri­ously ill as those who are younger and health­ier. Most cases have been mild.

The nurs­ing home out­break ap­par­ently seeded the first case in North Carolina, au­thor­i­ties said. A Wake County res­i­dent who had vis­ited the Wash­ing­ton state nurs­ing home tested pos­i­tive but is in iso­la­tion at home and is do­ing well, ac­cord­ing to the North Carolina gov­er­nor’s of­fice.

In sub­ur­ban Seat­tle, 27 fire­fight­ers and paramedics who re­sponded to calls at the nurs­ing home were tested for the virus Tues­day us­ing a drive-thru sys­tem set up in a hos­pi­tal park­ing area.

Thirty-year-old fire­fighter Kevin Grim­stad took care of two pa­tients Jan. 29 at Life Care Cen­ter in Kirk­land. He is among 10 from the Kirk­land Fire Depart­ment who de­vel­oped symp­toms after calls to the nurs­ing fa­cil­ity.

Grim­stad, his wife and 6-month-old son have taken turns re­cov­er­ing from fevers, coughs and con­ges­tion. They’re all feel­ing bet­ter, but wish they knew more about the virus.

“It’s crazy. A cou­ple of weeks ago, it seemed like a for­eign thing and now we’re get­ting tested,” Grim­stad said. “If I was ex­posed a month ago, the prob­lem is more wide­spread than we know.”

In the na­tion’s cap­i­tal, of­fi­cials moved on a num­ber of fronts.

A bi­par­ti­san $7.5 bil­lion emer­gency bill to fund the gov­ern­ment’s re­sponse to the out­break worked its way through Congress.

The Fed­eral Re­serve an­nounced the big­gest in­ter­est-rate cut in over a decade to try to fend off dam­age to the U.S. econ­omy from the fac­tory shut­downs, travel re­stric­tions and other dis­rup­tions around the globe. On Wall Street, stocks ral­lied briefly on the news, then went into an­other steep slide, with the Dow Jones In­dus­trial Av­er­age los­ing 785 points on the day, or 2.9%.

“We have seen a broader spread of the virus. So, we saw a risk to the econ­omy and we chose to act,” Fed Chair­man Jerome Pow­ell said.

Also, the Food and Drug and Ad­min­is­tra­tion sought to ease a short­age of face masks by giv­ing health care work­ers the OK to use an in­dus­trial type of res­pi­ra­tor mask de­signed to pro­tect con­struc­tion crews from dust and de­bris.

Law­mak­ers on Capi­tol Hill ex­pressed skep­ti­cism about U.S. health of­fi­cials’ claims that test­ing for the new virus should be widely avail­able soon. CDC test kits de­liv­ered to states and cities in Jan­uary proved faulty.

Au­thor­i­ties have said labs across the coun­try should have the ca­pac­ity to run as many as 1 mil­lion tests by the end of the week.

But test­ing so far has faced de­lays and mis­steps, and “I’m hear­ing from health pro­fes­sion­als that’s un­re­al­is­tic,” Demo­cratic

Sen. Patty Mur­ray of Wash­ing­ton state said at a Se­nate hear­ing.

The chief of the Food and Drug Ad­min­is­tra­tion, Dr. Stephen Hahn, said the FDA has been work­ing with a pri­vate com­pany to get as many as 2,500 test kits out to labs by the end of the week. Each kit should en­able a lab to run about 500 tests, he said. But health of­fi­cials were care­ful about mak­ing prom­ises.

“I am op­ti­mistic, but I want to re­main hum­ble,” said Dr. Anne Schuchat of the CDC.

In Wash­ing­ton state, researcher­s be­lieve the virus may have been cir­cu­lat­ing un­de­tected for weeks. That has raised fears that there could be hun­dreds of un­di­ag­nosed cases in the area.

But some peo­ple who want to be tested for the virus in the state are en­coun­ter­ing con­fu­sion, a lack of test­ing op­tions and other prob­lems as health au­thor­i­ties scram­ble to deal with the cri­sis.

“The peo­ple across my state are re­ally scared. I’m hear­ing from peo­ple who are sick, who want to get tested and don’t know where to go,” Mur­ray said. “It’s un­ac­cept­able that peo­ple in my state can’t even get an an­swer as to whether or not they are in­fected.”

One lab was al­ready test­ing for coro­n­avirus in Wash­ing­ton state and a se­cond was sched­uled to be­gin do­ing so soon.

Amid the ris­ing fears, a school dis­trict north of Seat­tle closed for train­ing on con­duct­ing re­mote lessons via com­puter in case schools have to be shut down for an ex­tended pe­riod, while a pri­vate school said it would con­duct on­line-only classes through the end of March.

“We do not feel it is pru­dent to wait un­til there is a known case to take ac­tion,” the school, East­side Prep in the Seat­tle sub­urb of Kirk­land, said on its web­site.

A Depart­ment of Home­land Se­cu­rity fa­cil­ity just south of Seat­tle in­structed all its em­ploy­ees to work from home after a worker be­came ill after vis­it­ing the nurs­ing home at the cen­ter of the out­break.

Else­where around the world, the cri­sis con­tin­ued to ebb in China, where hun­dreds of pa­tients were re­leased from hos­pi­tals and new in­fec­tions dropped to just 125 on Tues­day, the low­est in sev­eral weeks. But the cri­sis seemed to shift west­ward, with alarm­ingly fast-grow­ing clus­ters of in­fec­tions and deaths in South Korea, Iran and Italy.

Deaths in Italy surged to 79, mak­ing it the dead­li­est re­ported out­break out­side China. Twenty-three mem­bers of Iran’s Par­lia­ment and the head of the coun­try’s emer­gency ser­vices were re­ported in­fected. South Korea started drive-thru test­ing. And in Spain’s Basque re­gion, at least five doc­tors and nurses were in­fected and nearly 100 health care work­ers were be­ing held in iso­la­tion.

The mush­room­ing out­breaks con­trasted with op­ti­mism in China, where thou­sands of re­cov­ered pa­tients were go­ing home and the num­ber of new in­fec­tions dropped to the low­est level in sev­eral weeks.

World­wide, more than 92,000 peo­ple have been sick­ened and 3,100 have died, the vast ma­jor­ity of them in China.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.