New York City

De Blasio to CDC: Give New York City the coronavirus test

‘We asked for it a week ago’

February 3, 2020 Mary Frost
This graphic shows the structure of the 2019 Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV), named for the spikes on the outer surface that look like a corona. Graphic: CDC
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New York City medical labs can’t run their own diagnostic tests for the novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV), and Mayor Bill de Blasio is pushing the Centers for Disease Control to speed up the bureaucratic process so the city can start doing so.

Over the weekend, the first three suspected cases were reported in New York City. Hospitals here, however, still have to depend on the CDC to run a new diagnostic test. Samples need to be sent to Atlanta, and results can take from 36-48 hours. (The Health Department said on Wednesday that the test results for the first patient under investigation for the virus came back negative.)

“We asked for [the test] a week ago, we’re still asking for it, they better pull out all the stops because the faster they do that, the better off everyone will be,” de Blasio told reporters at a press conference on Sunday.

NYC Health Commissioner Oxiris Barbot said that the CDC’s new test “has to go through the proper protocols to confirm that results are replicable and consistently so.” After that, the next step is getting FDA approval to have non-CDC labs run that test.

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De Blasio was less understanding of the delay.

“From a layman’s point of view, I’m sure that’s all accurate, but they should do that as quickly as possible. We need as much urgency at the CDC as possible,” the mayor said. “Sometimes bureaucracy stands in the way, so I want to know that they’re doing everything in their power to speed the process so we can give that test right here in New York City.”

NYC Dept. of Health Commissioner Dr. Oxiris Barbot gave a briefing on the virus at NYC Emergency Management Headquarters Jan. 24. Photo: Paul Frangipane/ Brooklyn Eagle

The CDC said at a teleconference on Monday that it plans to submit today an emergency-use authorization to expedite the use of its diagnostic test.

“The process is extremely expedited,” Nancy Messonnier, director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, assured reporters. “We submitted plans to FDA today, and I expect we should start getting these out by the end of the week.”

The CDC’s test is based on “a real time reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction, or PCR test,” she said. This measures the amount of viral RNA in the patient’s blood or saliva. “On Jan. 24, CDC posted the assay protocol,” she added.

Diagnosing coronavirus: a two-step process

Barbot said that diagnosing coronavirus is a two-step procedure.

“There’s a very simple task called BioFire, and that tests for 26 common viruses. And so, once that’s negative, then the provider calls us, says this person has met the travel criteria, they’re symptomatic, we’ve ruled out 26 common viruses that could have accounted for their symptoms and then we take it from there.”

The BioFire test is done at local laboratories. If the person is diagnosed with one of the 26 common illnesses and is just mildly affected, the Health Department will ask for contact information “to make sure that we don’t lose track of them,” Barbot said.

Number of cases exploding in China

Coronavirus emerged in Wuhan, China in December. The fast-spreading outbreak has officially infected more than 14,500 people and killed at least 304 in 23 countries as of Monday.

There may be many more infected than the official count, however. Uncertainty exists because Chinese labs that can test for the virus are said to be overwhelmed, medical supplies are in short supply and doctors there are approaching exhaustion. The city of Wuhan, the epicenter of the outbreak, is on virtual lockdown, and there are reports of long lines outside of hospitals.

The virus is a big worry for residents of Sunset Park, Brooklyn, the city’s largest Chinatown. Borough President Eric Adams convened a press conference last week at the Chinese-American Planning Council to address concerns. Some residents are wearing protective face masks as they stroll, shop and bring their children to school in the neighborhood.

Medical masks, like the one worn by this woman in Sunset Park, are in short supply in Brooklyn and around the world. Photo: Paul Frangipane/Brooklyn Eagle
Throughout Brooklyn’s Chinatown, residents can be seen wearing face masks. Photo: Paul Frangipane/Brooklyn Eagle

Scientists suspect that the virus can spread even while a person has no symptoms, which include fever, cough, shortness of breath, diarrhea and sometimes pneumonia.

Washing hands with soap or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer is the number one way to ward off infection, health experts say. People should also avoid touching their faces with unwashed hands, cover their mouths with their elbow while coughing or sneezing, avoid sick people who have recently returned from China, and stay away from wild game, which can carry the virus.

The coronavirus family includes SARS, MERS and the common cold, and is zoonotic, meaning it jumps from animals (frequently bats) to humans.

While NYC health officials say face masks are not necessary yet, it doesn’t hurt to wear them. In order to effectively block out airborne viruses, masks rated N95 are required. According to the CDC, N95 respirators filter out at least 95 percent of airborne particles if worn correctly, which means with an airtight seal between the mask and the face. Mask shortages have been reported at shops across the city.

In the U.S., there were 11 confirmed cases of coronavirus as of Monday.


Update: This story was updated on Feb. 5 to report that the Health Department announced on Wednesday that the test results for the first patient under investigation for the coronavirus came back negative.

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  1. it's onlymoney

    Makes one wonder how prepared is NYC – a major big city with huge Asians/Chinese population. Hope none are getting under the radar, hoping even more we may dodge a bullet with this regardless need to be testing and taking precautions.