Infectious disease expert and Manhattan physician Matt McCarthy sounded the alarm Monday about the critical lack of available testing for the new coronavirus, blasting it as a “national scandal” that has “hamstrung” health care professionals.
A visibly frustrated McCarthy, who is on staff at New York-Presbyterian Hospital, complained on CNBC’s “Squawk Box” that he has to “plead” for COVID-19 testing for patients.
“In New York state, the [first] person who tested positive is only the 32nd test we’ve done in this state,” he said. “That is a national scandal.” The “longer we wait to get testing up and running, the worse this is going to be.”
While other countries are testing 10,000 people a day, “we can’t get this off the ground,” said McCarthy, author of the book “Superbugs: The Race to Stop an Epidemic” and an assistant professor at Weill Cornell Medicine. “I’m a practitioner on the firing line, and I don’t have the tools to properly care for patients today.”
Before McCarthy arrived for the CNBC interview, he said, “I was in the emergency room seeing patients. I’m here to tell you, right now, at one of the busiest hospitals in the country, I don’t have [diagnostic testing] at my fingertips. I still have to ... make my case, plead to test people. This is not good.”
At latest count Monday evening, there were 102 confirmed coronavirus cases in the U.S. “There are going to be hundreds by the middle of the week; there’s going to be thousands by next week,” warned McCarthy. “And this is a testing issue.” He cautioned people to “not believe” the “false reassurances” coming from the Trump administration.
McCarthy earlier warned on MSNBC that if the administration doesn’t “change its tune” about what’s really going on, “it’s going to go from a scandal to a cover-up.”
The bottleneck in testing has emerged as a critical weakness in the U.S. battle against coronavirus. Early tests devised by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention were flawed and worked in only a handful of labs. In addition, until recently, the CDC limited use of the tests to people who had traveled to China or who had contact with someone known to have the disease. As of Friday, fewer than 500 people in the nation had been tested, according to the CDC, while South Korea has so far tested 100,000. China is able to carry out 1.6 million tests a week.
McCarthy was asked on CNBC if it was “easy” to create a diagnostic test. He snapped: “It is easy to do for some countries.”
A study by Washington scientists has linked a recent case of coronavirus to the first one in the state in January, suggesting that community transmission of the disease has occurred undetected for six weeks. A county health officer complained about the difficulty of obtaining testing for residents. Six people have now died in the state, and as many as 1,500 could be infected.
The CDC and the federal Food and Drug Administration are only now trying to roll out the tests to several more state, commercial and university labs to speed up the process.
President Donald Trump said Monday in the Oval Office that “a lot of very exciting things” are happening “rapidly” concerning the coronavirus. He said a vaccine could be ready in a matter of “months.” That was immediately contradicted by Dr. Antony Fauci, the head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, who said it could be a year and a half before the U.S. has a usable vaccine.
Trump said that “we will continue to do exactly what we’re doing.”
Check out the full CNBC video up top. McCarthy’s comments begin at .55.