A Nature investigation of several university labs certified to test for the virus finds that they have been held up by regulatory, logistic and administrative obstacles, and stymied by the fragmented US health-care system. Even as testing backlogs mounted for hospitals in California, for example, clinics were turning away offers of testing from certified academic labs because they didn’t use compatible health-record software, or didn’t have existing contracts with the hospital. Researchers warn that if such hurdles remain, labs trying to join the effort to fight coronavirus might end up spinning their wheels. The United States is now the global epicentre of the pandemic, with more than 430,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19, including nearly 15,000 deaths.

“Our capacity is 2,000 tests a day,” says Stacey Gabriel, a human geneticist at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where testing facilities were approved in March. “But we aren’t doing that many. Yesterday was around 1,000. What is holding us back? That is the question,” she says.