A sign at a Dorchester, U.K., Tesco store states that the store is out of hand sanitizer amid panic buying in response to the global coronavirus outbreak.

One of the country’s largest providers of diagnostic information services is launching a testing service for coronavirus.

Secaucus, New Jersey-based Quest Diagnostics said Thursday that it would launch the service for SARS-CoV-2, the rapidly spreading virus that causes COVID-19. The company said it would be in a position to receive specimens for testing on Monday. The service will be provided as a laboratory-developed test designed as a molecular-based assay that detects viral RNA in respiratory specimens, pending review by the Food and Drug Administration under emergency use authorization.

“In times of national health crises, quality laboratory testing is absolutely critical to mobilizing effective public health response,” Quest Diagnostics CEO Steve Rusckowski said in a statement. “Quest’s national scale, diagnostic expertise and innovation and relationships with half the country’s physicians and health systems, is a vital complement to the efforts of the [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] and other public health labs to contend with a growing number of suspected COVID-19 cases in the United States.”

Quest competitor LabCorp also said it would launch its own test, on Thursday, making it available at 6 p.m. Eastern time.

“We have been intensely focused on making testing for COVID-19 available as soon as possible, working with the government and others to address this public health crisis,” LabCorp CEO Adam H. Schechter said in a statement. “By expanding access to testing in the U.S., and preparing to support the development of vaccines and treatments for COVID-19 through our Covance Drug Development business, we are delivering on LabCorp’s mission to improve health and improve lives.”

The news comes amid widespread criticism of the Trump administration’s response to the rapidly growing spread of the disease. In comparison with widespread testing in places like China and South Korea, local health officials around the U.S. complain of the lack of a coronavirus test they can use to identify patients, along with CDC-imposed restrictions on who could be tested that were only lifted on Tuesday. Meanwhile, the administration’s clampdown on information – forbidding federal officials involved in the response from making public statements without authorization and a White House press briefing where news media were forbidden to use video or audio recording – has been criticized as well. In addition, President Donald Trump has made numerous controversial statements, including remarks on Fox News’ “The Sean Hannity Show” where he contradicted the World Health Organization’s estimate that COVID-19 has a 3.4% death rate, making it significantly more deadly than seasonal flu, and blaming testing setbacks on the Obama administration.

According to the CDC, there are 100 cases in the U.S., and 10 people have died, particularly in the Seattle area. Worldwide, as of Wednesday, 93,090 people were infected as of Wednesday, with the death toll approaching 3,200, according to the latest available WHO situation report. The virus was first identified in the central Chinese city of Wuhan in December.

Photo: Finnbarr Webster, Getty Images

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