Test Delays Raise Questions — Spur Efforts to Reduce Wait — for COVID-19 Diagnoses

Whether to go to work, to travel out-of-state, be admitted to a hospital or for some just to visit friends and family, many individuals across Connecticut are required to take a diagnostic test for COVID-19.

The test, which is now widely available and reimbursed by insurance companies, indicates whether an individual is carrying the virus at the time of the procedure. But with the results taking on average a week to arrive, they may already be overtaken by new infection and no longer accurate.

“Demand for our molecular diagnostic testing remains high as the virus has spread across much of the United States, particularly the South, Southwest and West. Persistent high demand has strained our testing capacity and extended delays for test results,” said Kimberly Gorode, spokesperson for Quest Diagnostics, one of the largest test providers nationwide. “As a result, our average turnaround time for reporting test results is now over two days for our priority 1 patients and 7 days for all other patients.”

The same is true for those who are tested by Labcorp in Connecticut.

To address the delays, the Connecticut Department of Public Health has invested in local medical labs to provide more efficient testing for Connecticut residents.

“That is why the State of Connecticut has contracted with four labs inside of CT to hopefully get healthcare providers to work with in-state labs to cut down on the processing wait time,” said Av Harris, director of communications and government relations for the Department of Public Health. “Those labs are Sema4, Genysis, Jackson Labs and Yale New Haven.”

According to Tom Balcezak, chief medical officer at Yale New Haven Health, for 95 percent of patients tested at Yale New Haven Health results are available within 24 hours.

“A patient has a swab done and about 12 to 24 hours later they get the test back virtually,” Balcezak said. “We haven’t seen the six to seven day turn-around time that you are seeing at some of the larger labs.”

Yale New Haven Health, however, is currently only able to perform 3,000 tests per day including tests for patients within the hospital or awaiting surgery.

In an effort to increase capacity and avoid the problem of supply chain shortages which have limited expansion, Yale New Haven Health is using six different types of machines made by six different manufacturers.

“We hope this helps to diversify the supply chain,” Balcezak said. “Our problem has been getting enough equipment and supplies. We are only doing 3,000 tests per day due to the supply chain availability, but we should be able to do 10,000 per day.”

For asymptomatic patients tested at Yale New Haven Health, the positivity rate is less than 0.25 percent. For all patient tests, including those being admitted to the hospital, the positivity rate is about 10 percent, but that rate has been declining since mid-May, said Balcezak.

“We have not seen anything in our data to concern us for a spike yet,” Balcezak said. “But we are concerned about people coming in from out of state and I think we all should be worried about the reopening of schools.”