Coronavirus testing has increased sharply in California to more than 60,000, Gov. Gavin Newsom said Wednesday, a nearly threefold increase over figures reported a day earlier.
State officials late Tuesday reported that 26,400 tests had been conducted in California, including through private labs. But Newsom said that as of 10 a.m. Wednesday, that figure was 66,839.
“We getting those operations up and running,” Newsom said in an early afternoon news conference, adding that the spike in testing was expected as state officials with more large and small labs for conducting them.
Among those was Kaiser, which added 12,000 tests to the total figure, Newsom said. He said Virgin airlines is helping deliver 150,000 test kits to California, and noted that despite the quickening pace of testing, it’s still not enough.
“More is being done in that space, but 66,800 is not enough tests,” Newsom said.
And while shortages of testing components has been a hindrance, he said a current impediment has been in processing tests to deliver results.
“It’s one thing to do the diagnostics,” Newsom said, “its another to get word back. Tens of thousands of those tests are waiting for results to be finalized.”
Newsom added that more tests are needed to in order to provide more comprehensive information about the scope of the contagion. With availability limited, most testing has been limited to those who have known exposure or illness. Newsom said the goal is to broaden that, to retest those who had tested negative, and those who have recovered.
“We want to test people multiple times, but we want to keep retesting people that have recovered so we can learn more about the specifics about their experience,” Newsom said.
Results as of Wednesday morning showed that 2,535 Californians now have tested positive, a 17 percent increase over Tuesday, and 53 have died.
Numerous health officials have bemoaned the slow pace of U.S. coronavirus testing, arguing it has limited their ability to see the full scope of the contagion and isolate the infectious to control spread. A few countries — notably South Korea — that were more aggressive in ramping up testing have since slowed the pace of new infections. Korea has tested more than 290,000, while the U.S. figure is about 60,000.
Two weeks into March, as South Korea was testing 20,000 people a day after quickly authorizing private tests, California had conducted fewer than 1,600 tests at its 18 state test labs. By last Sunday, 26,400 tests had been conducted in California, including at private labs, though as Newsom noted earlier this week, results were still pending on 12,100.
“The issue now is not swabs, RNA extraction, reagents it’s about turning around the tests which are in some cases taking days and days and days, some cases many as seven, eight, nine days,” Newsom said Tuesday. “And so we’re going to have to address the timeliness of the diagnostic and the test results as well.”
The World Health Organization in January had published a protocol with instructions for any country to manufacture tests for the virus shortly after Chinese officials identified the new coronavirus as a cause of mysterious pneumonias observed in December. But the WHO didn’t offer tests to the U.S. because the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has the capacity to make its own.
The CDC has traditionally developed its own tests and supplied them to public health departments around the country. It began shipping coronavirus test kits to public health labs Feb. 5, about two weeks after confirming the first U.S. infection in a Washington man Jan. 20. But on Feb. 12 the CDC concluded the tests were defective and needed to be recalled.
The FDA on Feb. 29 allowed certain US labs to test for coronavirus using diagnostics they had developed and validated before the agency reviewed them. But even as commercial labs added to the testing capacity, shortages of reagent chemicals, swabs, pipettes and other materials needed to complete the tests limited testing availability.
Coronavirus: California sees big jump in testing, but more needed