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CDC’s original SARS-COV-2 diagnostic test was hampered by a contaminated reagent: WaPo investigation.

2020-04-19

On April 18, at 8 AM, the Washington Post published a story about the CDC diagnostic test that was rolled out shortly after the Chinese came out with a complete genome for SARS-COV-2 on January 11.  The whole story is not yet known, but experts who have evaluated the available information conclude with some confidence that one of the reagents was contaminated with exogenous virus.

The contamination probably occurred because the kits were manufactured in the same facility and under the same isolation hood as previous experiments that isolated the virus.  A tiny quantity of virus was probably transferred by a shared pipette or other piece of equipment– no one knows and they probably never will know.  Here is a quote from the article:

The cross contamination most likely occurred because chemical mixtures were assembled into the kits within a lab space that was also handling synthetic coronavirus material. The scientists also said the proximity deviated from accepted procedures and jeopardized testing for the virus.

The contaminated part of the test, ironically, was a third, confirmatory step that looked at the possibility that another type of coronavirus was being detected.  This step was not included in the tests that were being done successfully in other countries.  It was designed to make sure that the detected virus was, in fact, SARS-COV-2 and not some other virus such as a cold virus.  It turned out that the first two steps were specific enough to conclude with high confidence that the novel coronavirus was found.

The test protocol published by CDC required that the third test be done, so it was not a “legal” option to skip that confirmatory step.  The rigid requirement that the third step be performed was a roadblock to performing the test at all, in the eyes of the end-users.  CDC failed to issue guidelines that allowed the third step be skipped for some time, although they had been warned about its intermittent false-positives.

Another quote from the article:

But after the difficulty emerged, CDC officials took more than a month to remove the unnecessary step from the kits, exacerbating nationwide delays in testing,

And another:

The development and rollout of the original kits are subjects of an investigation led by the Department of Health and Human Services, federal officials said.

Yet another:

The failure with testing kept the public health labs from performing disease surveillance intended to predict and minimize harm before the virus became widely established in the United States. The impact has been magnified by the nation’s inability to rapidly expand the availability of testing.

The conclusion is that the CDC violated its own lab procedures in doing in-house manufacturing of a test kit that it had successfully developed, and then took a month to acknowledge the problem and correct it.  This critical delay caused confusion and led to a stutter in our ability to discover that the virus was spreading rapidly through-out the US.

As I noted in a previous post, low case counts are a plus for [redacted]’s re-election prospects, at least in his own mind.  Minimizing the extent of the pandemic in the US fits in with His fantasy narrative that Democrats are exaggerating the pandemic and trying to incite unwarranted fears among voters.

Voters and the general public are afraid, more because they don’t know what is going on than anything else.  Widely shared, accurate knowledge about the real state of affairs will do more to assuage fears than attempts at coverup.  The coverup will become the focus of the story rather than the virus itself, which just scares people more than telling them the truth in the first place.

The CDC should have cooperated with European and Chinese investigators to adapt and use the virus tests already developed instead of starting from scratch.  They should have, at least, followed their own isolation procedures if they insisted on developing their own test (which they claimed was more specific, even if it turned out to be not necessary).  They should have investigated immediately the reports of testing problems and corrected the errors in a transparent way.  The correction turned out to be very simple: just stop doing the third part of the test.  The tests were accurate even without the third step, and an immediate order to the labs to stop doing the third part would have saved critical time.

Why wasn’t this done?  Why all the errors in what turned out to be a critical time?  Who knows?  What is important now is to move forward from where we are, to vet and confirm that the many privately-developed tests are specific and sensitive, convincing the public that we are doing everything we can to provide the knowledge that they need to go on with their lives.

 

 

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