Our mission to help you navigate the new normal is fueled by subscribers. To enjoy unlimited access to our journalism, subscribe today.
A surge in coronavirus cases around the country has fueled increased demand for COVID-19 tests, significantly increasing the time it takes to receive results, according to lab testing giant Quest Diagnostics.
The company said in an update that the average turnaround for a COVID test is now seven or more days for non-high priority patients. For so-called “priority 1” patients, which includes patients who are already in the hospital and therefore at higher risk of coronavirus exposure, those who show active and serious symptoms, health care workers who have COVID-19 symptoms, and people who are about to undergo surgeries, Quest says that the average turnaround time for a test result is slightly more than one day.
The situation isn’t going to improve any time soon amidst the national surge in cases. Hospitals and ICUs in certain states like Texas, Florida, Arizona, and California are being overwhelmed with patients. But it’s not just the hot spots that dominate the news: According to a Fortune analysis of New York Times data as of July 9, 17 states have seen an average daily increase of at least 200 cases when compared with two weeks ago.
“[W]e want patients and health care 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,” wrote Quest. “This is not just a Quest issue. The surge in COVID-19 cases affects the laboratory industry as a whole.”
As a result, the firm is asking health care providers and urgent care centers that administer the tests to prioritize which tests get sent to the lab, suggesting they “limit the number of specimens they forward for patients who are low risk.”
The lag time in returning test results leads to a vicious cycle. For instance, a person who tests positive but doesn’t know it for 10 days and is asymptomatic may transmit coronavirus to other people in the meantime. Knowing one’s status earlier could encourage them to take safety precautions such as self-isolation.
There have been nearly 3.4 million confirmed coronavirus cases in the U.S. and more than 135,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins.