Diagnostic Testing for the Novel Coronavirus

(This op-ed was first published in JAMA Network on March 9, 2020.)

Michelle Mello

Controversies over diagnostic testing have dominated US headlines about severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), the novel coronavirus responsible for coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). Technical challenges with the first test developed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) left the nation with minimal diagnostic capacity during the first few weeks of the epidemic. The CDC also initially limited access to testing to a narrow group of individuals with known exposure. The delayed discovery of a case of COVID-19 in California, followed quickly by evidence of community transmission in multiple states, revealed the shortcomings of this strategy. In the early stages, COVID-19 has spread beyond the nation’s ability to detect it.

(Continue reading the op-ed on JAMA’s page here.)

Joshua M. Sharfstein, MD, is in the Department of Health Policy and Management at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. Scott J. Becker is at the Association of Public Health Laboratories. Michelle Mello (BA ’93) is a leading empirical health law scholar whose research is focused on understanding the effects of law and regulation on health care delivery and population health outcomes. She holds a joint appointment at the Stanford University School of Medicine in the Department of Medicine.

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