State health officials say COVID test results backlog is nationwide issue

Posted at 9:48 PM, Jul 16, 2020
and last updated 2020-07-17 00:22:32-04

HAMPTON ROADS, Va. - As the coronavirus continues to rage across Hampton Roads and the country, testing labs are struggling to keep up.

The significant increase in demand for COVID-19 tests in recent weeks have slowed turnaround times for results.

The impact of the delays is being felt by many people, including Steven Pintell, 29, who was waiting more than a week for results. He and his family were quarantining for 13 days.

“We don’t want to get the people we know and love, sick,” said Pintell.

Pintell’s results arrived 12 days later and showed he was negative for the virus. He was finally able to return to work.

Virginia Department of Health Chief Deputy Commissioner Dr. Parham Jaberi said the delayed turnaround times are a growing concern.

“If you get test results late, the value and meaning get diminished over time,” he said.

Dr. Jaberi sits on the governor’s Testing Advisory Council made up of various health systems. The group of health experts are now looking at new testing strategies and are reevaluating how people are prioritized.

Dr. Jaberi, however, said because of the increased COVID cases and testing volume, labs nationwide are limited on equipment and facing delays from supply chains.

Quest Diagnostics Spokesperson Kim Gorode sent a statement that read in part:

“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.”

Gorode went on to say, “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.”

Similarly, LabCorp Spokesperson Kelly Smith Aceituno said "until recently" it could deliver COVID-19 test results within a day or two.

“With significant increases in testing demand and constraints in the availability of supplies and equipment, the average time to deliver results may now be four to six days from specimen pickup. For hospitalized patients, the average time for results is faster.”

Dr. Jaberi said fixing the state’s backlog is a national effort.

“You need a national strategy,” he said. “You need a coordinated strategy to say we could only get the results we need if all other counties and all the states play by the same rules. That’s the challenge we’re looking at.”

If people believe they’ve been exposed to the virus and are waiting on test results, Dr. Jaberi said staying at home and waiting for those results to come in really is the right thing to do.

“It’s a really difficult situation to be in,” he said. “My heart goes out to those individuals that are feeling the impacts of this pandemic if not from a health perspective, but from a financial [one]. They are reducing the chance of other individuals from becoming exposed. In order to address a public health crisis, we have to make those sacrifices.”

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