Major coronavirus testing company says turnaround time averaging at least 7 days

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Quest Diagnostics, one of the companies performing a significant amount of the coronavirus testing in the U.S., said Monday that its average turnaround time for test results is at least seven days for most patients.

The announcement illustrates how the spike in coronavirus cases is overwhelming the country’s testing capacity. 

The company said Monday that its average time to get coronavirus test results back is now “7 or more days” for everyone except the highest-priority patients, meaning people who are hospitalized or symptomatic health care workers. 

Quest said the lagging turnaround times are due to “soaring demand” for coronavirus testing that is overwhelming the company’s capacity.

The rise in demand comes as coronavirus cases are surging in many regions across the country.

“We attribute this demand primarily to the rapid, continuing spread of COVID-19 infections across the nation but particularly in the South, Southwest and West regions of the country,” the company said. 

Such long turnaround times greatly hinder the country’s response to the virus by reducing the ability to do contact tracing to identify and warn people who have been in contact with an infected person to cut off further transmission. 

With waits this long, someone could unknowingly continue to spread the virus for days after getting tested but before getting their results. 

The long turnaround times are not limited to Quest. The American Clinical Laboratory Association, which represents a wide range of commercial labs, warned at the end of June that the “significant increase in demand could extend turnaround times for test results.”

The Trump administration has faced heavy criticism for testing problems that have been going on for months. While the number of tests per day has significantly increased since the start of the pandemic, there are still supply constraints preventing capacity from being ramped up further. Democrats and leading public health experts have been pressuring the administration to play a more forceful role in increasing testing capacity. 

“We are limited in how quickly we can add capacity,” Quest said Monday. “For instance, global supply constraints continue to be an issue.”

The company urged people to follow Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines on preventing the spread of the virus, saying that is the ultimate way to ease the surge in cases that is overwhelming testing capacity. 

“We want patients and healthcare providers to know that we will not be in a position to reduce our turnaround times as long as cases of COVID-19 continue to increase dramatically across much of the United States,” the company said. “This is not just a Quest issue. The surge in COVID-19 cases affects the laboratory industry as a whole.”  

A spokeswoman for the Department of Health and Human Services, when asked about Quest’s statement, said the administration is investing in additional rapid testing at the point of care, and is exploring “pooling” of tests, which could ease the burden by testing many samples at once. 

“While there indeed remains longer turnaround from large commercial labs, we estimate that 4 million tests last month were point of care, with results in 15 minutes,” said Mia Heck. “Critics don’t mention that these tests are NOT in the commercial lab count.”

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