DETROIT – There seem to be enough coronavirus (COVID-19) tests available in Metro Detroit, but results are often taking so long to come back that the tests are rendered essentially useless.
“If you want a test, you can get a test” has been a popular refrain, and it seems to be mostly true. The problem is getting results. Across the country, there are widespread reports of serious delays.
Testing isn’t only important for peace of mind. It’s critical to controlling the outbreak. People need to know if they’re infected so they can properly isolate and their contacts can be notified.
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Any delay beyond a few days really renders a test useless.
Testing and tracing are pillars of the public health response to COVID-19, but right now testing is falling short across the U.S.
According to its website, Quest Diagnostics, one of the largest laboratory corporations in the country, is currently taking longer than two days for high-priority patients to get their test results.
That includes hospitalized, acute care and pre-operative patients, as well as symptomatic health care workers.
For everyone else, COVID-19 test results take more than seven days, or in some cases, even as long as two weeks.
LabCorp, another national testing corporation, said on July 19 that its tests are taking an average of 3-5 days to come back from the time of specimen pickup.
Demand for testing has dramatically increased in parts of the country that are experiencing a surge. The problem is that many independent clinics and urgent care centers, along with pharmacy chains such as CVS and Rite Aid, have partnered with national testing labs to process their samples, which not only bakes a delay for specimen shipment -- it also adds to the backlog for national labs.
Anyone who wants a faster result on a COVID-19 test should check with local facilities performing tests in their own labs. For example, the Henry Ford Health System is completing its tests within 24 hours.
According to Michigan officials, the state lab’s turnaround time is generally one day. The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services has a testing locator on the coronavirus page that allows users to find sites that are no cost and don’t require a doctor’s prescription or symptoms.
Delays with antibody testing might be annoying, but they don’t really affect the pandemic because they aren’t considered reliable enough yet and the results aren’t used to signal active infections.