What’s the hold up? People wait 5+ days for COVID-19 test results


AUSTIN (KXAN) — It’s a question that gets a different response every time — how long did you wait to get your COVID-19 test results back? Dozens of viewers tell KXAN during the month of June, and so far in July, it’s taking anywhere from two days to more than 12 days to receive results.

An Austin dad, who says Monday marks day number six of waiting, has been isolating in his bedroom away from his wife and children.

“It’s horrible,” he said. “I talk to my kids through sliding glass doors, they are six to 20 feet away or through the back doors of the bedroom.”

He said he got tested at one of the local Austin Emergency Center locations on June 30 after checking most of the boxes for COVID-19 symptoms. The first sign something was wrong was losing his sense of smell.

He’s doing what experts suggest — act like you have the virus until you’re told otherwise.

Update: The father tells KXAN he received his results Tuesday morning, on day seven. He tested positive for COVID-19.

Rising demand leading to longer wait

A spokesperson with AEC said right now test results are taking six to seven days to receive due to the rising demand for testing, and sometimes the labs get backed up due to the volume of tests that are sent. 

austin emergency center covid testing 6.19.20
Austin Emergency Center Drive Thru testing site

“Our goal is to provide accurate and timely information to our patients and we inform all patients as soon as their test results are back,” a spokesperson said via email. “Rising demand for testing has necessitated that we partner with a variety of labs in order to meet those demands.”

As the days go by, the dad, who is still waiting, wonders how the country is going to get the virus under control when results are taking so long.

“It’s a deadly disease,” he said. “If we’re really trying to trace it or prevent the spread, we ought to be able to do [get results] within a reasonable amount of time.”

Why wait times matter

Dr. Stephen Thomas, Chief of Infectious Diseases at the State University of New York agrees, and said when the dust settles and the country is in a position to look back on the availability of reliable testing and the implementation of mass testing, it’s going to be looked at as a fail.

“Speed matters, said Thomas. “Every day that you don’t have a test result that you were potentially in contact with other people that means you could’ve infected somebody and that person could’ve then went off to affect two to four more people.”

Laura McComb, 23, said she’s been tested twice for the virus after two different exposures to someone who tested positive. The first time in mid-June, her partner got tested on the same day at a different spot.

“I was shocked because he was told he would have his results back in two days whereas I got told I would get my results back in 7 to 14 days,” said McComb.

As for test number two, McComb had done on June 25, she has yet to get the results. It’s been 11 days.

Factors that go into a turnaround time

Thomas said the wait times depend on where health care providers are sending the tests. He also said some facilities have in-house capabilities, which can equal faster turnaround times.

In upstate New York, patients who went to the same testing center had a variety of turnaround times as well.

“What’s the difference? Well their test on their day went to Pittsburgh and this other person’s test went to Virginia, and because there was an outbreak down south the testing time in Virginia took five days whereas in Pittsburgh it took two days.”

Austin Public Health told KXAN its testing results are coming back in three to five days.

Quest Diagnostics, a lab several viewers asked KXAN about, said the demand of COVID-19 testing continues to surge, and it’s causing further delays in turnaround times.

Courtesy: Quest Diagnostics

Quest Diagnostics said it has performed and reported results of approximately 6.6 million COVID-19 molecular diagnostic tests and approximately 2.4 million COVID-19 antibody tests.

The company sent the following statement:

Since June 29, demand has continued to rise nationwide, particularly in the South, Southwest and West regions of the country, outpacing our capacity. As a result, the average turnaround time for reporting test results is now 1 day for priority 1 patients and 4-6 days for all other populations.

We are doing everything we can to bring more COVID-19 testing to patients in the United States at this critical time. This week, we intend to ramp up our capacity to reach 120,000 molecular diagnostic tests a day, compared to 115,000 last week. Over the month of July, we will continue to ramp up our capacity to reach 150,000 molecular diagnostic tests a day.

*Turnaround time for molecular diagnostic and antibody testing includes the time to transport a specimen to a Quest Diagnostics laboratory after collecting it at a patient service center or provider site to reporting results. Turnaround time can fluctuate with demand and vary by region.

**Priority 1 patients include hospital patients, pre-operative patients in acute care settings and symptomatic healthcare workers.

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