As wait time for COVID-19 testing increases, NC health officials say federal help needed

Coronavirus

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – State health officials say they need help from the federal government to speed up the testing process for COVID-19 cases.

North Carolina Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen said a shortage of the chemical reagent used in labs to conduct COVID-19 diagnostic tests has increased the wait time to get results.

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Cohen said sometimes it’s taking five to six days for those results to come back. Previously, it was common to get results in 24-48 hours.

“That’s not good. We need to really close that gap, and that’s one thing that North Carolina, we can’t solve that problem from the state level. We need federal assistance. We need assistance with the supply chain,” she said.

Warren Berman made an appointment at the drive-through testing site at a CVS pharmacy in Raleigh Friday. On the company’s website, it tells people they should expect it to take five to seven days to process test results.

“That’s the main thing, is do you have it or don’t you have it?” Berman said. “It would be nice to have a quicker turnaround time. I think this is definitely the most important thing we have going on right now.”

The state has begun encouraging more people to get tested for COVID-19, including those who are not showing symptoms, especially following recent protests. To find a testing site near you, click here: https://covid19.ncdhhs.gov/about-covid-19/testing/find-my-testing-place

On Friday, the state set a new single-day record of 2,099 tests coming back positive.

Cohen said hospital systems that conduct COVID-19 tests are trying to conserve reagents.

“They could be running more tests if they had more reagents. But, they’re actually need to run less tests per day to save their reagents as they go forward,” Cohen said. “If they even run out, then they’re using our bigger commercial labs which further delays everyone getting test results back. That’s a real problem.”

Dr. Chris Polage, medical director of the Clinical Microbiology Laboratory at the Duke University Health System said that there are shortages of reagent chemicals.

“We currently have enough reagents to meet our testing needs for the next few days. However, it is true that we are seeing shortages and reduced allocations from several test reagent vendors requiring us to monitor supplies daily, order more supplies daily and weekly, and direct samples to tests where we have enough reagents to perform the testing we need,” Polage said in an email.

Labcorp, which is based in North Carolina, is processing hundreds of thousands of COVID-19 tests per week.

Company spokesperson Nadia Damouni told CBS 17, “In recent weeks, we have seen a steady increase in demand for molecular testing and we are doing everything we can to continue delivering results in a timely manner while continually increasing testing capacity. With the recent increase in demand, results on average may take 1-2 days longer. We expect our capacity for molecular tests to increase from 130,000 to 150,000 tests per day by mid-July.”

Quest Diagnostics, which has conducted more than five million COVID-19 diagnostic tests, said the company is still turning around results in one day for people considered a top priority. That includes hospital patients, pre-operative patients and healthcare workers who show symptoms.

For others, the wait is three to five days for results, the company said.

North Carolina DHHS is also in the process of testing every employee and resident of the state’s nursing homes, which have been hard hit by the COVID-19 pandemic. There are over 400 nursing homes, which have about 36,000 residents and more than 30,000 employees.

A survey released this week by the American Health Care Association and National Center for Assisted Living found 87 percent of nursing homes and assisted living facilities reported it’s taking two days or more to get test results back.

“The amount of time it is taking to receive testing results is hurting the ability of long term facilities to fight the virus. Regular testing of nursing home and assisted living staff is a vital step in controlling the spread of COVID-19, but is not effective without obtaining timely test results,” said Mark Parkinson, president and CEO of the organizations that conducted the survey.

“For nursing homes and assisted living communities to protect residents and staff, we need on-site testing with reliable and rapid results. With a recent uptick in COVID-19 cases among the general population, we are concerned labs will get overwhelmed and receiving results for long term care residents and staff will take even longer to obtain,” Parkinson added.

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