Coronavirus patient in California was not tested for days

A photo taken on Feb 13, 2020 shows shoppers by a deserted Los Angeles Chinatown as mos stay away due to fear of the novel coronavirus. PHOTO: AFP

CALIFORNIA (NYTIMES) - 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 Centres for Disease Control and Prevention said Wednesday (Feb 26).

CDC officials said it was possible the patient was exposed to a returning traveller 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.

US 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," Mr 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 Centre 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 travelled 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 centre 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.

With the new patient, the total number of known coronavirus infections in the US is 60.

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.

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.

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