The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention sent out an early COVID-19 test in February despite having data that indicated it was flawed.
NPR reported that the CDC's infectious disease lab designed and built the test as it became clear that the coronavirus would pose a health threat in the United States. But as a scientist was doing a final quality control test on the test kit, it was discovered that the test had a 33% failure rate.
Officials told NPR that a failure rate like that would normally prevent a test from going out, but the CDC ultimately decided to release it anyway.
The test kits were sent out to roughly 100 public labs nationwide in early February, a time when there were very few test kits available for the general public. The kits consisted of a reagent that would help determine if a sample contained the virus.
On Feb. 8, a lab in New York City was already seeing problems with data collected from verification tests the lab performed on the test kits.
Jennifer Rakeman, the director of the New York City Public Health Laboratory, told NPR, "It was very truly an 'oh, crap' moment. These reagents aren't working; everybody is waiting for us all over the city to have this test online. We think we have more cases than we've been able to detect and the test isn't working."
She said trying to deal with the burgeoning pandemic in New York City was like building a house with a saw but without a hammer. "And we need that hammer. We need that other tool, we need that test," she said.
Officials have theorized that problems with contamination and the testing procedure may have caused the failures, but no official answer has been given — although the inspector general for the Department of Health and Human Services has launched an investigation.
Health officials admitted later in February that issues with that first diagnostic test delayed the Trump administration's response to the pandemic.
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