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Mass. state lab to begin testing patients for coronavirus

The Massachusetts State Public Health Laboratory will begin testing patients for the new coronavirus, Public Health Commissioner Monica Bharel announced Friday afternoon.

“This change is good news for Massachusetts as testing at the State Public Health Laboratory will speed up obtaining test results for Persons Under Investigation and expedite ongoing testing of any confirmed case in recovery,” Bharel said in a statement.

Previously, any Massachusetts patient who met the federal government’s narrow criteria for diagnostic testing for the new coronavirus, known as Covid-19, had their specimens shipped to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta. The CDC had distributed test kits to public health labs across the country, but several labs reported issues with the test kits. As a result, only 12 labs in a handful of states could diagnosis the coronavirus.

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The change comes after the Food and Drug Administration authorized state and local health labs to use a modified version of the existing test kits distributed to states earlier this month, rather than wait for a new test kits from the CDC.

“This has not gone as smoothly as we would have liked,” said Dr. Nancy Messonnier, director of the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, at a press briefing Friday regarding the flawed rollout of the test kits.

Many laboratories were unable to validate one of the test’s three components. The CDC has since determined that the troublesome third component “can be excluded from testing without affecting accuracy,” Messonnier said.

Now laboratories can start testing using just two components from the existing tests, she said. Meanwhile, new test kits are being manufactured for wider distribution. The CDC will still confirm all positive tests.

“Our goal is to have every state and local health department online doing their own testing by the end of next week,” Messonnier said.

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The state Department of Public Health declined to say whether Massachusetts was one of the states that had difficulties with test kits. A spokeswoman also declined to answer questions about the number of Massachusetts residents who have been tested for coronavirus, nor how many test kits the state has received.

Going forward, the health department plans to test people who meet the CDC’s revised case definition for a person under investigation, which requires both symptoms and a history of travel to affected areas. The department said the state laboratory has an adequate supply of test kits from the CDC, and the anticipated turnaround of test results will take up to a day, depending on testing volume.

Massachusetts has only one confirmed case of Covid-19, in a University of Massachusetts Boston student who is showing positive signs of recovery, according to health officials. More than 200 other Massachusetts residents are in voluntary self-quarantine and are being monitored by local health boards.

Felice J. Freyer of the Globe staff contributed to this report.


Deanna Pan can be reached at deanna.pan@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @DDpan.