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New York City doctor says he has to ‘plead to test people’ for Coronavirus

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Hospitals across the U.S. are unprepared to identify and treat the new coronavirus, which has begun to spread across the country, New York City-based physician and author Dr. Matt McCarthy said Monday.

“Before I came here this morning, I was in the emergency room seeing patients,” he said on CNBC’s “Squawk Box.” “I still do not have a rapid diagnostic test available to me.”

McCarthy pointed to problems identified with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s diagnostic tests for the virus.

The CDC sent test kits earlier in the outbreak to public health labs around the country, but those kits were problematic and potentially inaccurate, CDC officials have since said. Because local clinicians can’t depend on the test kits, some have had to ship samples to a laboratory with the ability to run the tests, delaying the process of diagnosis and treatment.

McCarthy, a staff physician at New York-Presbyterian Hospital, says he still does not have access to test kits.

“I’m here to tell you, right now, at one of the busiest hospitals in the country, I don’t have it at my fingertips,” he said. “I still have to make my case, plead to test people. This is not good. We know that there are 88 cases in the United States. There are going to be hundreds by the middle of the week. There’s going to be thousands by next week. And this is a testing issue.”

The team at New York-Presbyterian Hospital is isolating suspected coronavirus patients and taking proper precautions to prevent the spread, McCarthy said, but “they’re hamstrung.”

New York state and city officials confirmed the first case in New York City on Sunday.

“In New York state, the person who tested positive is only the 32nd test we’ve done in this state,” he said. “That is a national scandal.”

As of Monday morning, there are 86 confirmed cases in the U.S. Two people, both located in Washington state, have died from the virus. On Saturday, health officials said that more than 50 people in a Washington state nursing facility called Life Care are sick and being tested for the virus.

Federal agencies are increasing COVID-19 testing capabilities at state and local labs, U.S. health officials said Friday, and plan to streamline the process for private development of test kits.

In South Korea, health officials have tested more than 100,000 people amid an outbreak that has infected more than 4,000 people in the country and killed 22. The U.S. has tested 472 as of Feb. 29, according to the CDC.

“They’re testing 10,000 a day in some countries, and we can’t get this off the ground,” McCarthy said. “I’m a practitioner on the firing line, and I don’t have the tools to properly care for patients today.”

The COVID-19 outbreak has infected more than 89,100 as of Monday, and killed at least 3,040 people, mostly in China. In recent weeks, the outbreak has crossed borders and onto five continents. The virus is now present in about 50 countries, according to world health officials, who have warned governments around the world to prepare for an epidemic in their countries.