By Sarah Krouse, Sharon Terlep and Matt Grossman
The surge in U.S. coronavirus cases and growing demand for
Covid-19 tests are straining the ability of pharmacies and labs to
deliver timely results to consumers, causing delays that hamper
efforts to contain the spread of the virus.
CVS Health Corp., which tests tens of thousands of patients
daily, initially promised results in three to five days and is now
telling people to expect a wait of between five and seven days
because of backlogs at testing labs. Walmart Inc. says tests that
took around two days as recently as late June now take four to six
because demand has increased in recent days as a result of cases in
states such as Texas.
Infectious-disease experts say prolonged wait times for test
results complicate efforts to find and isolate the chain of people
with whom an infected individual has been in contact. That makes it
harder to limit the virus's spread.
"If you're going to do contact tracing and the test comes back
in five to seven days, you might as well not do contact tracing
because it's already too late," Anthony Fauci, the nation's top
infectious-disease doctor, said in an interview with "The Journal,"
a Gimlet and Wall Street Journal podcast, posted Wednesday.
Individuals waiting on diagnostic test results must decide
whether to isolate themselves until the results arrive or continue
going to work or social activities and risk transmission to others.
The number of confirmed new Covid-19 cases in the U.S. hit a new
single-day high of 60,000 on Wednesday, according to data from
Johns Hopkins University.
Many Americans are emerging from months of quarantine and social
isolation while the summer weather, along with business reopenings,
is drawing more people outside to recreational and social
Will Harrison, 25 years old, was exposed to Covid-19 at his job
as a dental assistant in Dallas, where cases have been surging in
recent weeks. A doctor advised him to be tested for the virus, but
since taking a test at a CVS in Garland, Texas, on July 1, he still
hasn't received a result through the company's online portal.
"I was never told to expect delays," said Mr. Harrison, who is
the caregiver for an elderly relative. "I don't feel comfortable
returning home to my family without negative results, so I stayed a
few nights in a hotel, and I'm couch-surfing this week to save
CVS, which can test 70,000 people a day, last week extended the
expected wait time for test results at roughly 1,400 locations
offering self-swab tests that are then sent to third-party labs for
testing. Surging cases in some parts of the country have created
extremely high demand, leading to backlogs in getting results, a
CVS spokesman said.
Alex Segura, a commercial audiovisual technician in Houston,
sought a coronavirus test at a CVS there on June 18, hoping to
confirm that he hadn't contracted the disease when he joined a
protest over the killing of George Floyd by police. It took nearly
two weeks for him to get his negative result back, he said.
Pharmacy chains typically enter partnerships with large
laboratories to process samples collected from nasal swabs.
Lab giant Quest Diagnostics earlier this week said increased
demand for testing, particularly in the southern, southwestern and
western U.S., had delayed turnaround time for tests to four to six
days. That is up from a three- to five-day range announced June
A spokeswoman for Laboratory Corp. of America said increased
demand as well as supply and equipment constraints has meant it may
take four to six days to deliver results once a specimen is picked
up. That compares with the typical one- to two-day period, though
results are faster for patients in hospitals. The company is able
to process more than 130,000 tests a day and plans to increase that
to 150,000 this month, she added.
The U.S. struggled with testing supply constraints -- and
accuracy concerns -- in the early weeks of the pandemic. Initially
testing was limited to those with symptoms and front-line
Since then, federal and state governments have taken some steps
to improve test accuracy and bolster supply chains to boost
capacity and access to testing, but recent surges in cases have
driven up demand. Some states make testing available to anyone who
wants one, even if they show no symptoms or don't know whether they
have been in contact with someone who is infected.
Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms said in a tweet this week she
was positive for Covid-19, eight days after being tested, adding
that three people in her house now have the virus. "If we had known
sooner, we would have immediately quarantined," she wrote.
Testing hiccups have caused difficulties for the nascent Major
League Baseball season in recent days. Since players reported to
stadiums for training beginning in late June, delays in the
league's Covid-19 testing regime caused some teams, including the
Washington Nationals and the Houston Astros, to cancel scheduled
"The process has not been without some unforeseen difficulties,
which are being addressed with the service providers that are
essential to the execution of the protocols," MLB said in a
statement. The league's testing plan in part involves shipping
samples collected from players to a laboratory in Utah.
Some medical practices have struggled to get adequate supplies
to conduct tests.
Family Medicine Associates, a small family-practice office in
Mission, Texas, said LabCorp has denied its requests for
coronavirus testing kits since March because the company said it is
prioritizing bigger testing centers, said Kayla Tezcucano, the
practice's office manager. The LabCorp spokeswoman said she
couldn't verify the practice's account.
The practice set out to buy its own rapid-test system, which it
expects to arrive in late August. In the meantime, Ms. Tezcucano
said, the practice offers antibody tests that can indicate if a
person has an active infection but are typically used as an
indicator of whether a person has been infected with the virus in
the past. The antibodies take about a week to show up, so a
negative test doesn't rule out coronavirus.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said antibody
tests shouldn't be used to diagnose an active infection except in
situations in which viral testing is delayed.
About 60 patients a day were coming in for the antibody tests
when the practice began offering them a few weeks ago. Last week,
that number jumped to 250 a day. On Monday, 318 people came in for
tests, Ms. Tezcucano said.
"People want their answers," she said. "I feel like I have the
responsibility of having blood on my hands in making sure our
patients not only have good care but also accurate and reliable
--Sarah Nassauer contributed to this article.
Write to Sarah Krouse at firstname.lastname@example.org, Sharon Terlep at
email@example.com and Matt Grossman at
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
July 09, 2020 05:44 ET (09:44 GMT)
Copyright (c) 2020 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.
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