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High demand for COVID-19 testing causing longer wait times for results

Delays in reporting results can have a domino effect
Posted at 5:53 PM, Jul 07, 2020
and last updated 2020-07-08 10:01:06-04

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) — With COVID-19 cases spiking in parts of the country, some of the largest testing providers are struggling to keep up with the demand, complicating efforts to isolate infected individuals and trace their contacts.

Quest Diagnostics announced Monday its turnaround time for most test results had expanded to four to six days, back to where it was in the beginning of April. Quest said its turnaround time for priority tests -- those for hospitalized patients and symptomatic healthcare workers -- remained at one day.

San Diego County operates 33 free testing sites for COVID-19, but ABC 10News found turnaround times can vary.

Have you waited more than 7 days for COVID-19 test results? Email our reporter.

Team10’s Adam Racusin got his negative test results from the site in Lakeside back in three days.

The county’s goal is to report all test results within three days, although the current average is between three and five days for non-priority tests, according to County Health and Human Services Agency Director Nick Macchione.

The county typically reports priority tests within 24 to 48 hours for vulnerable populations like individuals at skilled nursing facilities and first responders, he said.

I visited the testing site in the SDCCU Stadium parking lot and got my negative test results back in seven days, after I placed a call to the County Nurse Line inquiring about them.

“It’s about resources,” said County Public Health Officer Dr. Wilma Wooten.

Wooten suggested that the recent spike in demand could be playing a role in increased wait times for results.

The county uses its own lab to test samples, but when the lab gets backed up it sends samples to private labs that have been inundated with demand.

In addition to Quest, Lab Corp and CVS Minute Clinic have reported long waits linked to high demand in recent days.

In hard-hit Arizona, ABC News reported that some people are waiting up to 10 days for results.

"When we tell them, go home, self-isolate, quarantine yourself until we get back to you and that period of time is a week to 10 days, people start to kind of diverge from those suggestions within a few days,” said Dr. Tyler Smith, a professor and epidemiologist at National University.

He said not only can testing delays lead to more infections if people waiting for results venture out in public, the added time makes contact tracing more difficult.

There are already signs of strain on the county’s ability to do contact tracing: as of Monday, the county was able to launch just 57 percent of its case investigations within 24 hours, setting off one of its warning triggers.

The county says it is taking steps to speed up testing in its lab, including adding staff and securing new testing equipment that has yet to arrive. The county has also added shifts at the lab, going with up to three shifts a day to process specimens.

As the number of cases grows in San Diego County, there could be future delays in turnaround time at the county lab, “but likely not beyond where it is today,” said spokesman Tim McClain.

“Everyone should be practicing social distancing, good handwashing and wearing of a face covering,” he said via email. “Individuals who felt symptomatic or otherwise had a strong belief they had the virus should isolate themselves and follow other public health precautions until the results come back.”