Delays for COVID-19 test results impacts ability to slow virus spread, experts say

Wake County News

GARNER, N.C. (WNCN) — The time it takes to get COVID-19 tests results is increasing, in some cases taking a week or more.

Experts say that’s having an impact on one of the key ways they’re trying to stop the spread.

People waited in their cars Friday to get a COVID-19 test at the Avery Street Recreation Center. Though the testing site was open until 4:00 p.m., people had to be in a vehicle line by 2:30 in order to get a test due to high demand.

Sylvia Watlington-Green was in line Friday morning, saying she was hoping to get some peace of mind.

“I have a mother that’s 80+ years old, and she’s been kind of leery of us coming over,” she said.

Watlington-Green works at the General Assembly, where it was announced Friday a Republican state senator had tested positive for COVID-19.

Amid the surge in demand for testing, commercial labs report turnaround times on processing those tests is increasing.

“It’s very crucial, I think, for the community and the nation as well to improve upon that,” said Watlington-Green.

State Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen says the latest issue is with a shortage of the chemical reagent used to determine if a sample is positive. She says the federal government needs to help ensure there are enough supplies to meet the demand for testing. 

“I think the thing that would be most helpful is, honestly, transparency. Where are these supplies? Where are they going? Because we know in North Carolina we’re not the only ones experiencing this,” she said.

Quest Diagnostics, one of the major commercial labs running tests, now says the average turnaround time is four to six days. That’s up from three to five days the week prior. For people considered priority one, such as hospital patients, the turnaround time is still one day.

North Carolina-based LabCorp also has reported increased turnaround times, taking up to four days on average. The companies said they are working to increase testing capacity.

Atlanta’s Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms recently tested positive for COVID-19 and said it took eight days for her and her family to receive their results.

Dr. Anthony Fauci told the Wall Street Journal these long delays make it harder to contain the virus. He said with a lag that long it’s “too late” to do contact tracing.

Rep. David Price (D-NC 4th) said there needs to be more coordination at the federal level.

“It’s just unthinkable, the chaos and the lack of leadership and proper management here,” he said. “It is partly a matter of mobilizing the resources, getting things manufactured. It’s also a matter, though, of managing the supply.”

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services says the FDA just approved a new rapid test, the BD Veritor Plus System, “that will significantly expand testing in distributed locations.”

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