A California coronavirus patient had to wait days to be tested because of restrictive federal criteria, despite doctors’ suggestions.
The patient, who has tested positive, may be the first person to be infected through community spread in the United States, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Wednesday.
CDC officials said it was possible the patient was exposed to a returning traveler who was infected. At the moment, however, the new case appears to be one in which the source of infection is unknown, suggesting that the virus may be transmitted within the community.
Following mounting bipartisan criticism that the administration’s response to the spread of the coronavirus had been sluggish, President Donald Trump on Wednesday named Vice President Mike Pence to coordinate the government’s response, even as he repeatedly played down the danger to the United States of a widespread domestic outbreak.
“The risk to the American people remains very low,” Trump said. “We have the greatest experts, really in the world, right here.”
CDC officials were present at the news briefing, but there was no mention of the possibility of a community-acquired coronavirus infection.
Doctors at the University of California Davis Medical Center considered the novel pathogen a possible diagnosis when the patient was first admitted last week.
But the federal agency that conducts the testing did not administer the test until days later because the case did not fit the agency’s narrow testing criteria, university officials said in a letter to the campus community late Wednesday.
The CDC has restricted testing to patients who either traveled to China recently or who know they had contact with someone infected with the coronavirus.
The CDC could not be immediately reached for comment.
The patient was transferred to the medical center from another hospital in Northern California with a suspected viral infection and was already on a ventilator upon arrival, according to the university’s letter.
“Upon admission, our team asked public health officials if this case could be COVID-19,” the letter said. The medical center requested testing from the CDC, “since the patient did not fit the existing CDC criteria for COVID-19, a test was not immediately administered. UC Davis Health does not control the testing process.”
With the new patient, the total number of known coronavirus infections in the United States is 60, including 45 cases among Americans who were repatriated from Wuhan, China — the epicenter of the outbreak — and the Diamond Princess cruise ship, which was overwhelmed by the virus after it was quarantined in Japan.
All of those patients are in isolation and receiving treatment at hospitals.
Until now, public health officials have been able to trace all of the infections in the country to a recent trip abroad or a known patient, and to identify the sources of exposure.
“The thing that would immediately make all of us uneasy is if this person has no direct contact with someone who comes from an affected country,” said Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease specialist at Vanderbilt University. “That would suggest there are other undetected cases out there and we have already started some low-grade transmission.”
Public health officials said the infected individual was a resident of Solano County, California, but they have not disclosed any other information to protect the patient’s privacy.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.