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COVID-19 testing delays presenting a real problem

Gene Woods, president and CEO of Atrium Health told a U.S. Senate panel on Tuesday the company was processing coronavirus tests at just 20 to 25 percent capacity due to a national shortage of the chemicals needed to run the test, reports WBTV.com.

Woods said the Charlotte, North Carolina-based company can handle 4,000 tests a day with its in-house lab equipment, but they are doing far less than that.

“We could probably do four times the amount of tests and have close to same-day turnaround, the challenge is reagents and, still in some respects, swabs,” Woods said. “We really need to continue to beef up the supplies of reagents so that we can expedite the testing. That would be our request.”

Atrium Health is not the only facility testing for COVID-19. There are 32 different coronavirus tests commercially available, according to the FDA.

Atrium Health (formerly Carolinas HealthCare System) is one of the nation's leading healthcare org...

Atrium Health (formerly Carolinas HealthCare System) is one of the nation’s leading healthcare organizations, connecting patients with on-demand care, world-class specialists and the region’s largest primary care network.
Atrium Health


So, while commercial laboratories have been able to increase their testing capacity, to some extent, there is still a big problem with the availability of reagents needed to conduct the tests. And of course, states with large surges of the coronavirus recently, have overwhelmed private labs like Quest Diagnostics and LabCorp, leading to slower turnaround times.

But this delay is also affecting the turn around time on test results in states with steady or declining case loads. “The concern is it’s just starting to spiral out of control,” said Marcus Plescia, chief medical officer at the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials.

It is protocol for health officials to tell someone they must stay at home and self-isolate until they get the results of their test. And lately, that means staying home alone for a week to two or more weeks. This is an unacceptable situation all around because someone showing little or no symptoms will be less likely to self-isolate.

Having a delay in getting results from COVID-19 testing can be critical for patients coming through a hospital emergency room. This is one time where results are needed right now – and not three days or two weeks later. Bottom line? Health officials lose valuable time with each day they await test results.


“It really undermines our infection control,” Plescia said. “Somebody who has COVID but has less typical symptoms or doesn’t feel that bad, they may feel like it’s probably not COVID, and they’ll be going out in public. And if it turns out they really do have COVID, they could have infected significant numbers of people.”

The Congress has appropriated $25 billion to improve testing and contact tracing, but none of those funds has gone to commercial labs that are bearing the brunt of testing.

“It’s the demand that’s changed very, very significantly,” said a spokesperson for the American Clinical Laboratory Association, which represents clinical laboratories like Quest and LabCorp. “Labs across the board are seeing significantly increased testing demand and constraints in the availability of supplies and equipment.”

Dr. Mark Kortepeter, a professor of epidemiology at the University of Nebraska Medical Center says: “Fundamentally, it’s simple supply and demand right now,” reports Time.com.

It may sound complicated, but we need to conduct a detailed analysis of the whole system to better direct supplies and amp up production. “Certainly we have the manufacturing capacity to do this,” Kortepeter says, “it’s just a matter of, how do we turn that on” after decades of outsourcing most medical manufacturing.

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We are deeply saddened to announce the passing of our dear friend Karen Graham, who served as Editor-at-Large at Digital Journal. She was 78 years old. Karen's view of what is happening in our world was colored by her love of history and how the past influences events taking place today. Her belief in humankind's part in the care of the planet and our environment has led her to focus on the need for action in dealing with climate change. It was said by Geoffrey C. Ward, "Journalism is merely history's first draft." Everyone who writes about what is happening today is indeed, writing a small part of our history.

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