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Gov. Lolo appeals to CDC for COVID-19 testing equipment locally

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Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — Gov. Lolo Matalasi Moliga has appealed to the leader of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for assistance in providing needed equipment to conduct locally the coronavirus test, which is currently sent to Hawai’i or to CDC headquarters in Atlanta.

Lolo’s Mar. 23rd letter to CDC director Dr. Robert R. Redfield was a follow up to emails and a conference call between Redfield’s staff and the Governor’s Office, Congresswoman Aumua Amata, Health officials and others in “response to our plea to get COVID-19 test kits to American Samoa.”

He thanked Dr. Redfield and his staff for their prompt response to address this crisis to protect the people on American Samoa.

“I am concerned that while we currently have no confirmed cases on island, we suspect that we do have COVID-19 in our population,” he wrote. “But because of the lack of test kits, we are unable to confirm that.”

He explained that two samples from patients on island have been sent for testing and Redfield’s staff and the government is currently working to get the results of those samples.

He informed Redfield that American Samoa is a close-knit community and should COVID-19 take hold and spread, “it will have dire consequences and result in the collapse of our healthcare system.”

“We currently do not have the capability to treat a pandemic,” he said, adding that Hawaiian Airlines is reducing its two weekly flights to one and this will delay the process of using swabs and sending them to Hawaii, CDC or Guam for testing.

Lolo said he understands that the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has given approval to the company, Cepheid for their Xpert Xpress SARS-CoV-2 test. “This molecular diagnostic test can detect the presence of COVID-19 in 45 minutes, providing the opportunity for testing on-site rather than sending tests to a distant location to be processed and read,” he said.

Lolo further understands that the Cepheid machines are being used in hospitals and emergency room settings now.

“This would be the perfect solution to speed up testing on American Samoa,” he wrote. “I am seeking your help in obtaining these machines and related testing items on an expedited basis.”

The FDA, an agency of the US Department of Health and Human Services (USDHHS) announced in a statement over the weekend that it has issued the first emergency use authorization for a point-of-care COVID-19 diagnostic for the Cepheid Xpert Xpress SARS-CoV-2 test.

It says that the emergency use authorization to Cepheid for the Xpert Xpress SARS-CoV-2 test for use in high- and moderate-complexity CLIA-certified laboratories as well as in certain patient care settings.

(As previously reported by Samoa News, the LBJ Medical Center laboratory is CLIA-certified.)

Cepheid, manufacturer of the machines, intends to roll-out availability of its point-of-care testing by March 30.

“The test we’re authorizing will be able to provide Americans with results within hours, rather than days like the existing tests, and the company plans to roll it out by March 30, which is an incredibly rapid timeline for such an effort,” said USDHHS Secretary Alex Azar in the statement.

“With new tools like point-of-care diagnostics, we are moving into a new phase of testing, where tests will be much more easily accessible to Americans who need them,” he said. “With the development of point of care diagnostics, Americans who need tests will be able to get results faster than ever before.”

More information on Cepheid and its new tester equipment online []