By the time President Trump kicked off his coronavirus press conference last night, top officials in California’s Department of Health were preparing an announcement of their own in conjunction with the CDC: They were preparing to confirm a Washington Post report about a new coronavirus patient whose infection was of unknown provenance.

But according to a story published Thursday morning by the New York Times, Californian health officials could have known about the infection – and thus taken the critical early steps to quarantine the individual – days earlier if it weren’t for restrictive federal criteria determining when federal or state officials can use one of the limited number of coronavirus testing kits available in the US.

When the patient, who reportedly lives somewhere in Solano County, was first admitted to Davis Medical Center a week ago, doctors suspected she might have the virus. But they weren’t able to secure a test…

Doctors at the University of California, Davis Medical Center considered the novel pathogen a possible diagnosis when the patient was first admitted last week.

But the federal agency that conducts the testing did not administer the test until days later because the case did not fit the agency’s narrow testing criteria, university officials said in a letter to the campus community late Wednesday.

…Because the case didn’t fit the CDC’s ‘criteria’…

The C.D.C. has restricted testing to patients who either traveled to China recently or who know they had contact with someone infected with the coronavirus.

…Even though the patient was already on a ventilator and suffering from severe pneumonia when she arrived at UC Davis from another hospital in Northern California.

The patient was transferred to the medical center from another hospital in Northern California with a suspected viral infection, and was already on a ventilator upon arrival, according to the university’s letter.

Interestingly the NYT never explains why the patient – who also happens to be the 60th confirmed case in the US – was finally given a test.

“Upon admission, our team asked public health officials if this case could be Covid-19,” the letter said. The medical center requested testing from the C.D.C. “Since the patient did not fit the existing C.D.C. criteria for Covid-19, a test was not immediately administered. U.C. Davis Health does not control the testing process.”

Though doctors have developed a theory that the patient may have been exposed to one of the other California cases in passing, it’s apparently relatively thin. As the NYT explains, if doctors can’t identify the source of the patient’s infection, that could be a sign that more infected people are out there, still spreading the virus.

Until now, public health officials have been able to trace all of the infections in the country to a recent trip abroad or a known patient, and to identify the sources of exposure.

“The thing that would immediately make all of us uneasy is if this person has no direct contact with someone who comes from an affected country,” said Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease specialist at Vanderbilt University.

“That would suggest there are other undetected cases out there, and we have already started some low-grade transmission.”

If you ask us, we’re pretty uneasy already – and by the looks of it, most of the market feels the same.

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