State health officials just got a very valuable tool for fighting the virus officially known as COVID-19, but more commonly called the coronavirus.

The disease – which may be deadly in about 2 percent of the cases – is spreading across the country, and North Carolina officials are bracing for it to hit here.

On Monday, March 3, the NC Department of Health and Human Services (NC DHHS) announced, the NC State Laboratory of Public Health (NCSLPH), within NC DHHS, is now able to perform testing for the virus that has so many people across the world on edge.

In the past, the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has had to administer the tests for the virus. However, this new capability allows North Carolina to take public health steps more quickly to respond to any positive test result.

NC Gov. Roy Cooper, who last month set up a task force to combat the virus, said this will quicken the state’s response if needed.

“Testing is already underway in our state lab and that means we get results faster,” the governor said. “Our public health leaders have been working around the clock to ensure that we are prepared.”

Testing at NCSLPH will be coordinated through the Division of Public Health’s Communicable Disease Branch on specimens from people who meet the CDC’s criteria for being a person under investigation for COVID-19. State health officials are using CDC-developed test kits that were granted under an “Emergency Use Authorization” from the Food and Drug Administration.

Test results from NCSLPH and other state labs require confirmation from the CDC. However, a “presumptive positive” finding from NCSLPH will initiate an immediate public health response from NCDHHS, NC Emergency Management and other local health departments and hospitals while CDC confirmation is pending.

The state also announced Tuesday that commercial and private labs could follow quickly in their ability to perform testing for COVID-19, based on information from the CDC. Since COVID-19 is a reportable disease in North Carolina, all health care providers and labs are required to inform NCDHHS of testing for the virus so the appropriate public health response can be coordinated if there is a positive test.

According to the March 3 press release, state officials are working closely with local health departments, health care providers and others to quickly identify – and respond to – any potential cases in the state, as well as to prepare North Carolinians to be ready in the event of more widespread, national COVID-19 transmission.

The press release also states: “The task force is developing response plans that address a range of possible scenarios. NCDHHS continues to host regular calls with local health providers and partners, develop and disseminate information and guidance and respond to questions from providers and communities.”