The U.S. government's response to the rapidly escalating coronavirus outbreak is receiving a strong dose of criticism. Instead of quickly testing every individual known to have been exposed to SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes COVID-19, just 3,600 were tested during January and February.

A world-class bottleneck

The first misstep along the path to what could become an uncontained outbreak in this country belonged to the Centers for Disease Control. Instead of using testing kits already provided by the World Health Organization, the CDC decided to create its own. Unfortunately, there have been problems with the test kits sent out by the CDC that rendered most of them useless. 

Coronavirus blood vial

Image source: Getty Images.

The CDC didn't begin sending testing kits to hospitals until Feb. 4, which means thousands of blood samples were sent to one of just 12 approved testing facilities. Tightening the bottleneck even further, all results needed to be certified by the CDC's central lab in Atlanta due to reagents that failed initial quality checks.

In the EU, a U.S. company called Co-Diagnostics (CODX 0.89%) has already launched a COVID-19 test available in every member state. Meanwhile, in the U.S., hospitals weren't able to use tests they already had access to until the beginning of March.

Sleepless in New York and Seattle 

It wasn't until Tuesday that the public learned that a person who died in a Seattle hospital last week had a COVID-19 infection when they were admitted to that facility on Feb. 24. Several other coronavirus cases have been diagnosed among residents of the nursing home where that patient lived.

Across the country, a second patient in New York City has tested positive. While the first COVID-19 positive patient in NYC got sick after returning from Iran, the second confirmed case is from a man who recently traveled to Miami. 

Get ready for a lot more confirmed COVID-19 diagnoses as the testing backlog is cleared. As of midday on March 3, just 12 people in NYC had been tested.