Covid testing, turnaround times still uneven this far into the pandemic

www.nbcnews.com
6 min read
standard
Where can I get a Covid test? Covid-19 testing, turnaround times are still uneven this far into the pandemic.
In one recent week, a New Yorker got a free Covid-19 test in a jiffy, with results the next day, while a Coloradan had to shell out $50 for a test two cities from her hometown after a frantic round of pharmacy-hopping. A Montanan drove an hour each way to get a test, wondering whether, this time, it would again take five days to get results.

While Covid testing is much easier to come by than it was early in the pandemic, the ability to get a test — and timely results — can vary widely nationwide. A fragmented testing system, complicated logistics, technician burnout and squirrelly spikes in demand contribute to the bumpy ride.

"We're still where we were 18 months ago," said Rebecca Stanfel, the Montana woman who had to wait five days for test results in Helena last month after she was exposed to someone with the virus.

Unpredictable waits can be a problem for those trying to plan travel, return to school from quarantine — or even get lifesaving monoclonal antibody treatment within the optimal window if they do have Covid.

The White House said this month that it plans to buy $1 billion worth of rapid antigen tests to help improve access to the hard-to-find over-the-counter kits. But people are also facing problems getting molecular testing, including the gold-standard PCR tests.

Public health labs are no longer hamstrung by supply bottlenecks for individual test components, such as swabs or reagents, said Kelly Wroblewski, the director of infectious disease programs for the Association of Public Health Laboratories. But they are still bearing large testing loads, which she had expected to shift more to commercial or hospital-based labs by now.

Testing labs of all stripes also face worker shortages just like restaurants, said Mara Aspinall, a co-founder of Arizona State University's biomedical diagnostics program who also writes a weekly newsletter monitoring national testing capacity and serves on the board of a rapid testing company.

For full coverage of…
Rae Ellen Bichell, Kaiser Health News
Read full article