Coronavirus Testing Crisis: Quest Diagnostics Has Backlog of 115000 Tests - How Should We ... .

Preventive medicine

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Does the U.S. healthcare system need to develop the capacity to widely test patients?

What's the story?

  • One of the nation's largest commercial labs, Quest Diagnostics, has a backlog of anywhere from 115,000 to 160,000 coronavirus tests.
  • Quest, however, is just one of an expanding number of private labs whose testing backlogs have ballooned in recent days.
  • Results for tests have been delayed for up to 10 days.
  • Also concerning: though Quest Diagnostics has a significant backlog, it has continued to accept specimens from across the country. Writes The Atlantic:
"Quest failed to come to terms with its ongoing problems, and it continued to accept specimens - and generate revenue - when other laboratories could have done some of the tests faster."

The problem with delayed test results

The lack of confirmation about whether someone has COVID-19 slows efficient patient care and delivers an incomplete view of the outbreak to state officials.

  • State officials and public health workers need to know where the virus is spreading (or not) to inform policies on enforcing or easing social distancing.
  • Doctors need to know who has COVID-19 to care for these sick patients and to protect healthcare workers and non-infected patients from getting the virus. It also tells doctors when to use the dwindling supply of personal protective equipment, or PPE.
  • “Lab turnaround time is PPE,” Geoff Baird, the acting laboratory-medicine chair at the University of Washington, told The Atlantic.
“More than a day is a tragedy. Three to five is okay for outpatients if they can sit at home, but it doesn’t address the problem in a hospital.”

Varied by state

  • Numbers of pending tests vary widely by state. Consider California. The Golden State has 59,100 pending tests as of 2 ET April 2.
  • Though the most populous state in the union, California has only managed to complete around 1800 tests each day, on average.
  • This means that two of every three people tested for COVID-19 in California don't know their results.
  • “It’s not as if it’s a train running along, as you might’ve heard,” William Schaffner, a Vanderbilt University School of Medicine professor of preventive medicine and an infectious-disease doctor, told USA Today. “Because testing is restricted still in many parts of the country.”

What do you think?

Should private labs stop accepting new tests if they have a backlog? Should certain tests be prioritized? Have you tried to get tested? Take action above, then share your thoughts below.

—Josh Herman

(Photo Credit: Screen Capture from CNN)