Long lines and stressed labs create COVID-19 testing delays

SHELBY COUNTY, Tenn. — How long is too long to wait for the results of a coronavirus test? Long lines and stressed labs continue to delay outcomes across the Mid-South and the country.

FOX13 spoke with a woman who was tested on June 30. Shelia Grant got her COVID-19 test results back Monday, 13 days after her test.

Grant told FOX13 she tested negative, but she still has major concerns.

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“It sheds doubt in people’s heart,” Grant said. “There’s no confidence in the tests. There’s not confidence in the doctors. There’s no confidence in the health department. There’s no confidence in the government.”

Grant said is frustrated after waiting nearly two weeks to get her COVID-19 test results after being exposed to someone who tested positive. Even though she tested negative, Grant said fears for those who did not.

“If I had a positive result today, you want me to go back and be quarantined when I’ve already done that because you’re giving me something positive today that I’ve waited 14 days for? No, I don’t think that’s right,” she said.

Grant and her husband quarantined for the first three days. She returned to work because she said she did not have any symptoms. Although Grant got paid while sitting at home, her husband, who’s the breadwinner, didn’t.

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“That makes a difference,” said Grant. “You got people out here that don’t get paid off, and you’re asking them to quarantine.”

The Shelby County Health Department says it could take as long as a month to get COVID-19 test results. That’s a problem for folks who need to work.

“The take home from this for the government, from the health department, those that are administering these tests: clear up the backlog,” said Grant.

FOX13 spoke with a couple from Crockett County Monday. They said that people tested positive at both of their jobs. They have been in quarantine since last Wednesday and cannot return until they get their tests results.

Quest Diagnostics posted the following statement about COVID-19 testing online Monday:

Despite our rapid scaling up of capacity, soaring demand for COVID-19 molecular diagnostic tests across the United States is slowing the time in which we can provide test results.

We attribute this demand primarily to the rapid, continuing spread of COVID-19 infections across the nation but particularly in the South, Southwest and West regions of the country. Specific drivers of demand include pre-operative patients undergoing procedures in hospitals and surgery centers; high-risk populations, such as those receiving care in federally qualified healthcare centers, nursing homes and correctional facilities; and individuals seeking testing from community drive/walk through events with government agencies and corporations.

We now have capacity to perform up to 125,000 molecular diagnostic tests a day, roughly double our capacity 8 weeks ago. By the end of July, we expect to have the capacity to perform 150,000 molecular diagnostic tests a day.

Despite that dramatic increase, demand for testing is increasing even faster. As a result, our average turnaround time* for reporting test results is slightly more than 1 day for our priority 1 patients.** However, our average turnaround time for all other populations is 7 or more days.

At Quest Diagnostics, we are doing everything we can to bring more COVID-19 molecular diagnostic testing to patients at this critical time.

However, we are limited in how quickly we can add capacity. For instance, global supply constraints continue to be an issue. While our suppliers of test platforms and reagents continue to be responsive to our need to add capacity, they are limited amid surging demand in the United States and globally.

To address these challenges we are seeking to add new technology platforms, among other options. We are also considering additional partners for our lab referral program, through which we forward specimens we receive to other laboratories with open capacity.

Yet, we want patients and healthcare providers to know that we will not be in a position to reduce our turnaround times as long as cases of COVID-19 continue to increase dramatically across much of the United States. This is not just a Quest issue. The surge in COVID-19 cases affects the laboratory industry as a whole.

We realize this situation is complex and not easily fixed. Fortunately, each of us has the power to take steps to reduce the spread of COVID-19. The CDC provides helpful information on how to reduce the spread of the virus on its website.

We are also asking healthcare providers to abide by the prioritization plan we have established and to limit the number of specimens they forward for patients who are low risk.

Finally, we want to recognize the remarkable contributions of our Quest Diagnostics colleagues, who have been central to our nation’s pandemic response. They are among the heroes of healthcare, and we are grateful for their willingness to go above and beyond to serve patients during these challenging times.

*Turnaround time for molecular diagnostic and antibody testing includes the time to transport a specimen to a Quest Diagnostics laboratory after collecting it at a patient service center or provider site to reporting results. Turnaround time can fluctuate with demand and vary by region.

**Priority 1 patients include hospital patients, pre-operative patients in acute care settings and symptomatic healthcare workers. We rely on the healthcare provider to indicate the level of priority of each patient specimen referred to us for testing.

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