AHCJ webcast to feature Harvard pathologist on coronavirus testing

Joseph Burns Bara Vaida

About Joseph Burns and Bara Vaida

Joseph Burns, a Massachusetts-based independent journalist, is AHCJ’s topic leader on health insurance. Bara Vaida is AHCJ's topic leader on infectious diseases. Her work has appeared in outlets that include MSNBC, NPR, Politico and The Washington Post.

Photo: Centers for Disease Control and PreventionThis is the CDC’s laboratory test kit for severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2).

As the number of SARS-CoV-2 infections and deaths due to the COVID-19 disease increase daily nationwide, journalists are asking why the United States lags so far behind other countries in introducing clinical laboratory tests for the virus that causes the illness.

Some strong examples of such coverage in the last few days include “11 to 100,000: What went wrong with coronavirus testing in the U.S.?,” by Meg Kelly, Sarah Cahlan and Elyse Samuels at The Washington Post on March 30, and “The Lost Month: How a Failure to Test Blinded the U.S. to Covid-19,” by Michael D. Shear, Abby Goodnough, Sheila Kaplan, Sheri Fink, Katie Thoma s and Noah Weiland at The New York Times on March 28.

David Louis

David Louis

To answer journalists’ questions concerning testing for the new coronavirus, AHCJ will host a webcast at noon E.T. on Friday, April 3, featuring David N. Louis, M.D., pathologist-in-chief at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) and the Benjamin Castleman Professor of Pathology at Harvard Medical School. As MGH Advances in Motion announced last week, Louis’ pathology department is working with other hospitals and researchers to develop new tests to expand patient testing.

Increased testing for the virus is critical, not only for identifying Americans who are infected but asymptomatic but also to enable officials to ease social distancing restrictions and improve economic activity in the country. Laurie McGinley and William Wan reported in The Washington Post on March 29 that public health officials are contemplating reopening the economy in four stages. The first two steps rely on access to diagnostic tests that would help demonstrate a sustained reduction in transmission of the disease and the ability of hospitals to care for patients. Then when there are effective treatments, there would be a gradual lifting of social distancing restrictions. The timing of restriction lifting likely would vary by state based on widespread test results.

In the MGH piece, Louis explained that hospitals and health systems worldwide face an overwhelming demand for tests for the virus and that the department is working with companies outside of the hospital to develop rapid testing that can provide a diagnosis at the point of care.

On the issue of point-of-care testing, several AHCJ members noted during a COVID-19 webcast on March 27 that Scott Gottlieb, M.D., the previous FDA commissioner under President Trump, called the FDA’s announcement of a new point-of-care test from Abbott Laboratories, a “game-changer.” In USA Today, Grace Hauck explained that Gottlieb expects the FDA to approve more point-of-care diagnostics that will allow testing in physicians’ offices nationwide.

During the April 3 webcast, Louis is expected to explain some of these efforts and answer questions about lab-developed tests, serological tests, genetic tests and the difference between manual and automated tests, among other topics. There will be the opportunity to ask questions during the webcast but we also will take questions ahead of time to make sure we address what journalists need to know. Submit your questions in advance with this form.

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