The United States is woefully behind in coronavirus testing. Again
In most places in America, it’s not difficult to get a Covid-19 test right now. You can walk into and out of a clinic, pharmacy, even your local Wal-Mart, with your nose dabbed, without too much trouble. Get the results of your test, on the other hand … well, let’s just say you should be prepared to wait. And wait.
This is a vastly different problem than the woes of the tests that plagued the US response to the pandemic in the early months of March and April. At the time, supply shortages, faulty test kits, and federal regulations restricting testing to only certain types of labs hampered the widespread availability of testing.
Since then, manufacturers of diagnostic products have dramatically increased production of the materials needed to perform Covid-19 testing. Federal government moved to demand that Covid-19 tests be covered by public and private insurers. Laboratories have significantly increased their capacity. Today the United States is testing 174 people out of 100,000, just behind Hong Kong for per capita testing. According to Covid monitoring project, the United States tests about 725,000 people a day, up from about 640,000 a month ago.
But as the surge in Covid-19 cases intensified in the southern and western United States in June and July, demand for testing has exploded and the country’s testing infrastructure has distorted. Backlogs in commercial labs have left people in some states wait a week or more to receive results. As the situation begins to improve, many Americans are still experiencing significant delays. And the longer a potentially contagious person has to wait for test results, the greater the likelihood that they will unintentionally infect other people, which could trigger new epidemics and make it much more difficult for public health agencies to slow down. spread of the virus, is high.
According to a new national survey, conducted by a consortium of researchers at Rutgers, Northeastern, Northwestern, and Harvard Universities, most people do not get results within the 24-48 hour time frame recommended by public health experts to support effective research of contacts. And about 20% of those tested, many of whom are Blacks and Latinxes, are forced to wait more than five days for test results, effectively rendering them unnecessary. Overall, around 10% of those surveyed said they had waited 10 days or more.
“If you wait 10 days or more, you can just dismiss these results. They don’t help anyone, ”says Katherine Ognyanova, network scientist at Rutgers University, and one of the co-authors of The report, which was released on Monday. Every week, she and her colleagues run an online survey to tens of thousands of Americans, distributed in all states and the District of Columbia. They would hear stories and read reports about people waiting weeks for results, but could not find systematically collected data on test turnaround times.
Indeed, Covid-19 tests are carried out by a number of different and disparate entities—Including hospitals, public health laboratories, large commercial laboratories and academic centers. The time a person has to wait for test results is determined by a number of factors, including where their swab is processed, the type of request the facility faces, and a triage process that results in the priority to certain people – health workers, hospital patients, known contacts of confirmed cases – in a fast lane of testing.
“States track a lot of test data, but none of them report wait times,” said David Lazer, social scientist in computer science at Northeastern University and co-author of the report. He and his staff hoped to use their online questionnaire to provide insight into what Americans are going through on the ground.