US patient with coronavirus of unknown origin was denied test for days

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Los Angeles (AFP)

Medical staff caring for a California woman with the first US case of novel coronavirus of unknown origin were unable to get her tested for five days because she had not traveled to outbreak-hit regions, a lawmaker revealed Thursday.

The development raises questions about whether other similar cases were missed and comes as the western US state said it was monitoring some 8,400 people for possible infection.

The woman was admitted to the University of California Davis Medical Center on February 19, the same day her doctors asked to submit a sample for a coronavirus test to federal authorities, Representative Ami Bera told a congressional hearing.

But it was not until February 23, after her condition had worsened, that there was "an insistence and a strong push and ultimately the patient did get tested," added Bera, a doctor who once worked at the same hospital. He said he learned of the case details from former colleagues.

It then took another three days for the positive result to return, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Wednesday declared it the first suspected case of community transmission -- a development which represents a new and more complicated challenge in the battle against the virus in the US.

Bera questioned CDC director Robert Redfield, who said the agency's testing guidelines were updated Thursday as a result of the case.

"The recommendation should be when a clinician or public health individual suspects coronavirus, then we should be able to get a test for coronavirus, so that's the current guidance that went out today," he said.

Speaking at an earlier news conference, California Governor Gavin Newsom said travelers arriving from affected areas were being monitored and sought to reassure the public that the risk of contracting the virus remains low.

Newsom told reporters his team was working with the CDC on making improved testing methods the top priority.

"We are not overreacting but nor are we underreacting to the understandable anxiety," he added.

He said the state had only 200 testing kits and had appealed for more from the federal government. Redfield later told Congress more tests were on their way.

Newsom said 33 people had tested positive for the virus in California and five of them had subsequently left the state.

Overall there are 61 cases in the US -- including 46 who were repatriated from abroad.

More than 80,000 people have been infected worldwide and 2,800 have died, mostly in China, where the virus originated late last year.