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En español | A new test that confirms a coronavirus infection in approximately 45 minutes will soon be available to thousands of hospitals and health care settings across the U.S. after receiving an emergency use authorization by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
Compared to other tests — which are sent to laboratories for analysis and can take several hours to several days to get results — a test that delivers results at the point of care can help doctors and nurses make more informed decisions during critical times, experts say.
A busy emergency room, for example, could see dozens of patients who are experiencing symptoms of COVID-19, the respiratory illness caused by the new coronavirus. But it may have only 10 isolation rooms.
"Do you take two patients who you think have COVID-19 and put them in the same isolation room? What if one doesn't have it and one does? By the time they're out of that room, both of them could potentially have it,” says David Alland, an internist and director of the Division of Infectious Diseases at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School's Public Health Research Institute. He led a team of researchers on the first evaluation of the new coronavirus test from Cepheid, a California-based company that develops diagnostic tests.
A faster test can also help doctors, nurses and hospital staff on the front lines of care in the coronavirus pandemic know when they need to self-quarantine to avoid infecting others. And when a treatment is approved and available, rapid testing results can help inform who gets it.
"For therapeutics, especially if they're in short supply or if there's any toxicity, having a diagnosis is absolutely key,” Alland says. “And having the diagnosis five days after you've first seen [the patient] is not going to help.”
The U.S. has faced a supply shortage of coronavirus testing kits, which has hindered the country's ability to track the spread of the virus. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says “while supplies of these tests are increasing, it may still be difficult to find a place to get tested.” The agency recommends that people who have COVID-19 symptoms — fever, cough and shortness of breath — and want a test call their state or local health department or a medical provider.
To date, more than 41,000 Americans have tested positive for the new coronavirus, according to real-time data from the Johns Hopkins University Coronavirus Resource Center. Cepheid says it plans to begin shipping the new point-of-care test kits, called Xpert Xpress SARS-CoV-2, to hospitals and health care settings this week.