NYT: U.S. bungling led to Seattle coronavirus spread

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A Seattle research team requested early permission to test patient samples from a flu study for the coronavirus, but U.S. officials denied the request -- bungling a chance to contain the outbreak, according to a March 10 article in the New York Times.

"The failure to tap into the flu study ... was just one in a series of missed chances by the federal government to ensure more widespread testing during the early days of the outbreak, when containment would have been easier," wrote Times authors Sheri Fink and Mike Baker.

Infectious disease expert Dr. Helen Chu of the University of Washington and colleagues had been collecting nasal swabs for months from symptomatic residents throughout the Puget Sound area as part of their Seattle Flu Study research project, according to the Times report. Once the coronavirus outbreak began, she and her team wanted to repurpose the tests to test for the virus, but U.S. officials rejected their requests, citing a lack of permission from research subjects.

On February 25, the team began testing the samples for the virus without permission -- and immediately got a positive result.

The test result suggested that the coronavirus had probably been circulating in the area for more than a month, possibly infecting hundreds, Fink and Baker wrote.

"The Seattle Flu Study illustrates how existing regulations and red tape -- sometimes designed to protect privacy and health -- have impeded the rapid rollout of testing nationally, while other countries ramped up much earlier and faster," they wrote.

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