Rep. Greg Stanton says Maricopa County received defective test kits for new coronavirus
Rep. Greg Stanton said Maricopa County health officials have received defective new coronavirus test kits from federal authorities and blasted the White House on Friday for a "flat-footed" response to the widening scare.
In a letter, Stanton, D-Ariz., said "top public health officials" told him that the kits sent Feb. 11 from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to the Arizona State Public Health Laboratory don't work as needed.
"As a result, Arizona officials have not had the tools necessary to quickly confirm (coronavirus) cases, and must continue to send their patient samples across the country to Atlanta, Georgia, in order to be tested by the CDC," he wrote. "Officials in my state have been forced to wait upwards of nearly two weeks to receive coronavirus test results.
"This is outrageous and unacceptable."
Stanton sent his letter to Vice President Mike Pence, whom President Donald Trump named this week to head the nation's defense against the flu-like virus that has infected more than 83,000 people and already killed nearly 3,000 people worldwide.
Stanton said Arizona officials are trying to contain the virus, but are hampered by "the flat-footed response and lack of transparency from this Administration."
"Defective test kits, for example, waste taxpayer dollars — not to mention precious time as pandemic health experts continue to learn more about how this virus spreads," he continued. Stanton called on the administration to explain what happened.
A spokeswoman for Pence declined to comment Friday evening and referred the matter to the Department of Health and Human Services.
In Arizona the effects of the coronavirus so far have been minimal.
A man in his 20s who is part of the Arizona State University community and had traveled to the Wuhan area of China is no longer infected and is out of isolation.
While Stanton's letter suggests that authorities in Arizona may have a significant time lag in receiving updated test results, officials with the Arizona Department of Health Services said Friday they expect to begin in-state testing next week, with results available within a day. Final confirmation of the diagnosis will still have to go through the CDC.
CDC officials say there were three components of the test kits for new coronavirus, but one of the components was giving inconclusive results. It was a problem nationally, not just in Arizona.
That third component can be excluded from testing without affecting accuracy, federal officials explained Friday during a new coronavirus telebriefing.
The CDC also has manufactured additional new test kits with only the two components specific to new coronavirus, said Dr. Nancy Messonnier, director of CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Disease.
"We have been working with FDA (U.S. Food and Drug Administration) and they agree with our approach. ... We have discretionary authority from FDA to proceed in this manner," she said. "This will increase testing capacity at state and local health departments. All positive test results will continue to be confirmed by CDC for some time."
Federal officials say they are working as quickly as they can to get CDC test kits to state and local public health authorities. They say they also recognize a need to make testing available in clinics, in hospitals and at the bedside.
Rep. Debbie Lesko, R-Ariz., who is a member of the House Homeland Security Committee, said in a tele-town hall Thursday that she believed "the White House has been keeping us very well informed of what they are doing and what steps they are doing."
"I think, from what I've been told, that the United States — the Trump administration — has been taking appropriate steps and I do believe they're keeping our public informed about it," Lesko said in response to a question from a caller. "I've been told by people that work for the president that he has told them explicitly, 'I want you to do everything possible to make sure that we keep Americans safe.' ... I think the administration is doing a good job."
A spokeswoman for Lesko could not be reached for comment late Friday evening.
Republic reporter Stephanie Innes contributed to this article.