Long delays for COVID test results as demand spikes

Posted at 10:33 PM, Jul 13, 2020
and last updated 2020-07-14 15:47:05-04

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. - For one Virginia Beach family, the delay in getting COVID-19 test results back is starting to take its toll.

Kim Cockrell is at a breaking point.

“It’s been hard, real hard,” said Cockrell. “Some days you want to cry. Just want to cry.”

She and her family have been confined to their home in quarantine for nearly two weeks after her son, Steven Pintell, 29, began to show COVID symptoms after work.

“I wear a mask; I sanitize my hands,” said Pintell. “I do everything I need to do, but it doesn’t necessarily seem like it might be enough when people come on not wearing it and other things. There’s only so much I can do.”

Pintell immediately took a nasal swab test at a CVS drive-thru center on July 2. That nasal swab was taken 11 days ago, and he and his parents are in limbo as they wait on test results to see if he has the virus.

“You don’t want to infect anybody else, so to do the responsible thing as a citizen, you stay home, and you pray every day that you’ll hear something,” Cockrell said.

Delays in the lab industry are widespread.

Lab companies Quest Diagnostics and LabCorp said the recent demand for COVID-19 tests surged, slowing down the turnaround time for results.

Results for non-hospitalized patients now take seven or more days at Quest compared to an average of three days.

According to Quest Diagnostics spokesperson Kim Gorode, nasal swab tests soared in June and July with volumes soaring to 7.4 million tests so far this month.

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

The lab can now process up to 125,000 molecular, known as nasal swab diagnostic tests a day, roughly double the capacity 8 weeks ago. By the end of July, Quest expects to have the capacity to perform 150,000 molecular diagnostic tests a day.

LabCorp went from a one- to two-day turnaround time to an average of four to six days.

LabCorp Spokesperson Kelly Smith Aceituno sent a statement that read in part:

“LabCorp has performed more than 6 million molecular tests since first making our COVID-19 test available in March, and we are now able to process more than 130,000 tests per day with plans to increase that to 150,000 tests per day this month. Until recently, we have been able to deliver test results back to patients on average between 1-2 days from the date of specimen pickup. But with significant increases in testing demand and constraints in the availability of supplies and equipment, the average time to deliver results may now be 4-6 days from specimen pickup. For hospitalized patients, the average time for results is faster.

“As additional equipment and supplies become available, we expect to be able to expand capacity and improve the time to return results. LabCorp continues to be committed to doing everything we can to respond to the health crisis.”

CVS Health said patients are waiting five to seven days on average for test results.

CVS Health Spokesperson Abby Major said the labs were turning around test results in approximately two to three days before the most recent surge in demand.

Major sent a statement saying its lab partners are working hard to address this issue.

“CVS Health is committed to expanding COVID-19 testing capabilities across the country and providing patients with results in a timely fashion so they can take the appropriate next steps,” said Major. “Patient samples collected at CVS Health’s COVID-19 drive-thru testing sites are sent offsite to independent, third-party labs for processing. As demand for tests has increased, we’ve seen test result turnaround times vary due to temporary processing capacity limitations with our lab partners, which they are working to address. Currently, during times of peak demand, it may take 5-7 days on average to receive results.”

A spokesperson for Gov. Ralph Northam said the governor is aware that testing turnaround times have increased in certain locations, due to private labs working through tests from several states.

According to the administration, when testing began at start of the pandemic, they were only being processed through the state lab. Since then, dozens of new in-state labs have been able to process tests, including hospital and university labs, as well as smaller private labs that have started processing COVID tests in Virginia.

Meantime, for Pintell, he can’t return to work without results. He said he’s losing money with every passing hour.

“This is not right for anyone, no matter what your financial situation is,” said Pintell. “If you can’t go to work, how do you progress in life?”

Cockrell said she prays every day for her son’s test results, so she no longer feels like a prisoner in her own home.

“We’re doing what’s right,” said Cockrell. “That’s the only thing that keeps you going, too. We’re doing what we need to do, and it’s so important.”

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