The contamination of an apparently unnecessary component in the CDC's coronavirus test kits reportedly caused rollout delay

(Image credit: Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

Substandard practices reportedly exposed the novel COVID-19 coronavirus test kits manufactured by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to contamination. That in turn led to a delay in their rollout earlier this year, The Washington Post confirmed after speaking with scientists familiar with the matter on the condition of anonymity. The Food and Drug Administration also concluded the CDC violated its own laboratory standards in making the kits, per the Post.

It appears the contamination occurred, in part, because the CDC chose to add a complex and unnecessary component to the kits for reasons that remain unknown. The kits included two standard components that focused on separate regions of the virus' genome, while the third component sought to identify a wider family of coronaviruses, which the Post notes may have been an attempt to bolster the kits' reliability and distinguish other coronaviruses from COVID-19. Among the known coronaviruses, COVID-19 is most closely related to the SARS virus, but the two are only 85 percent identical, which is a "massive difference" when it comes to testing, Northern Arizona University geneticist Paul Keim said. In other words, that third component, which was later confirmed to have been the cause behind inconclusive results, was not essential.

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Tim O'Donnell

Tim is a staff writer at The Week and has contributed to Bedford and Bowery and The New York Transatlantic. He is a graduate of Occidental College and NYU's journalism school. Tim enjoys writing about baseball, Europe, and extinct megafauna. He lives in New York City.