The Wall Street Journal: CDC created COVID-19 testing criteria that masked the numbers contracting the coronavirus in U.S.

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Wikimedia Commons/Jim Gathany

Exterior of the CDC Museum.

As the coronavirus epidemic spread around the globe, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provided restrictive guidance on who should be tested, archived pages on its website show. While agencies in other countries were advising and conducting widespread testing, the CDC, charged with setting the U.S. standard for who should be tested for the virus, kept its criteria limited.

A botched initial test batch also meant that tests were slow to be distributed and in short supply. Now, the Food and Drug Administration has allowed private laboratories to develop tests, and the CDC relaxed its criteria. And positive results across the U.S. have poured in.

See: These 16 companies are working on coronavirus treatments or vaccines — here’s where things stand

Now, the CDC has turned over authority to physicians to determine who gets tested, but the testing rates vary widely by state.

Containing a virus requires identifying and isolating those who are infected, infectious-disease and public-health experts say. “If we would have had a true understanding of the extent of the disease several weeks ago, implementation of social-distancing measures could have prevented the escalation of the disease,” said Neil Fishman, chief medical officer at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania and an infectious-disease specialist.

Wall Street Journal/Sources: The COVID Tracking Project/Korean Centers for Disease Control

Wall Street Journal infographic based on data through March 20.

An expanded version of this report appears at WSJ.com.

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