Coronavirus test kit delay pushes hospitals to make their own: "I think the CDC was under-testing"

Labs work to develop coronavirus tests

Last Updated Mar 4, 2020 11:46 AM EST

There are only 15,000 coronavirus test kits available in the United States, according to the Food and Drug Administration, which has authorized commercial labs to develop more tests. More than a million tests are expected to be produced by the end of the week.

The delay in CDC test kits isn't stopping some states from unveiling their own testing procedures.

"We cannot have a system which is centralized in a few laboratories. Really, the front-line battle of the response to the new coronavirus will be done in the outpatient clinics and the hospitals," said Dr. Albert Ko of the Yale School of Public Health.

Private hospitals like NYU Langone in Manhattan are also making plans.

"I think the CDC was under-testing," said Dr. Jennifer Lighter, who manages infection control at NYU Langone and expects the medical center's own coronavirus test to be ready in about a month. "To really establish a new test needs a certain amount of validation and time."

Across the East River at Northwell Health's Long Island Jewish Forest Hills hospital, health care workers are preparing for a potential surge of coronavirus patients.

The hospital sits between two of New York City's international airports, concerning officials that it could become an epicenter for coronavirus. But, they say they are prepared.

"What we're doing right now is we're trying to screen for anybody that would be at a high risk," Dr. Teresa Amato, the director of emergency medicine, told CBS News medical contributor Dr. Tara Narula. "It's really important to be over screening in some sense. We'd rather isolate more patients than less."

There have been no suspected coronavirus cases at the hospital, but if a patient has concerning symptoms, the patient is immediately given a mask and is isolated in a negative pressure room.   

"Our regular rooms just have regular air circulation," Amato said. The air in the negative pressure room, she explained, "is actually pulled out of the room and through a filter."   

The emergency room at LIJ Forest Hills has on average 60 beds. Coronavirus fears are fueling concerns rooms could easily be overwhelmed.

"They're already looking at how could we either open something outside and put up a tent, could we use a larger building that's not being utilized right now?" Amato said.

Amato said she doesn't want to "completely sugarcoat" the situation, but also doesn't want people to panic.

"We're going to be cautious in the sense that we keep preparing, but I don't think anybody should be panicking," she said.

Patients who test positive for coronavirus will be isolated right away. Patients with mild symptoms will be sent home with a face mask and be asked to self-quarantine at their home to limit the spread of the virus.

Narula is also a cardiologist at Northwell Health's Lenox Hill Hospital.