I-TEAM: Commercial labs taking longer with COVID-19 test results

Published: Jul. 27, 2020 at 4:16 PM EDT
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AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) - Georgia’s top leaders say backlogs in processing COVID tests makes it nearly impossible to conduct contact tracing. But the backlog is also putting families in limbo as they wait days or even weeks in quarantine for their results.

The delays are putting a financial strain on families.

Imagine going weeks without a full paycheck and the only thing keeping from getting a full paycheck is your pending COVID test. This the reality families face while waiting in limbo on labs.

Qiara Scott said goodbye to her 2-year-old son, Marcus, when she first started feeling sick more than two weeks ago.

“I sat in my room for the first seven days,” Scott said. “I didn’t have my son. I didn’t want to expose him. I was hoping to get the results back soon so that I could get him.”

She was also hoping to get back to work as soon as possible. She has to have a negative COVID result before she can return.

On July 8, she went CVS to get tested for COVID-19. She has waited 20 days with no results.

“A very long and trying wait,” Scott said.

Her chart still shows “no test results to display.”

“I’m still waiting,” Scott said.

“After day seven, we ran out of babysitters, so I had to have that personal prayer: ‘God, please protect my son,’” Scott said.

She says CVS told her the results would take about 6-10 days. A disclaimer on CVS Pharmacy’s website states the same, along with this: “In some instances, our lab partners may take even longer to return results.”

“They have me a 1-800 number for the lab,” Scott said. “I called the lab and I heard there was just not enough employees. That’s what I heard with the second call -- understaffed and a lot of tests to do.”

CVS Pharmacy’s lab partner is Quest Diagnostics. Quest posted a statement about the backlog seven days ago, saying: “Demand for COVID-19 testing continues to outpace Quest’s capacity and is highest in the south.”

“Many of the commercial labs are not returning tests in a timely way,” Dr. Kathleen Toomey with the Georgia Department of Health said. “Takes two weeks or longer to get tests back.”

Toomey stressed her concerns over the backlogs during Gov. Brian Kemp’s last news conference.

“That delay is unacceptable,” Toomey said. “It’s unacceptable for the individual, but also for the prevention and intervention needed to protect the community as a whole.”

Findings in a recent study show contract tracing does not work if test results are delayed three days or longer.

Scott just wants to get back to work.

“It’s scary a little bit because when you are used to making a certain amount, any amount lower -- there’s the thought what will have to cut back on?” Scott said.

She’s grateful to at least collect short-term disability.

“But they are people out there that don’t have that,” Scott said.

What she does get is just enough to feed her son and pay the bills.

Kemp announced a new partnership with a lab a week ago. Health officials hope it will help speed up the turnaround time on tests across the state.

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