As the number of COVID-19 cases continues to climb, Douglas County has responded with an increase in testing.
But it faces new delays in getting results back. Tamara Howell, spokeswoman for the Douglas County COVID-19 Response Team, said in an email that a bottleneck at the labs is due to increased testing nationwide.
Until recently, the labs were turning around test results in two to three days. Now, it’s between seven and 11 days, a lag time Howell said is worrisome.
The new lab delays aren’t unique to Douglas County, though. They’re happening around the country as outbreaks increase, making it harder for labs to keep up. And public health officials across the country have expressed concern about the impact of those delays on their ability to quickly trace contacts and contain the spread of the disease.
“This is not something we can control,” Howell said. “The labs are working hard to get caught back up and reduce wait times. We will continue to work with them, exercise patience with the process and remain hopeful that turn-around times will be reduced soon.”
The county uses several labs, but primarily Quest, and Howell said they’ve been very impressed with their quality and responsiveness.
In a press release, Quest reported that its average turnaround time is now seven days, with some patients receiving results as quickly as two or three days and a few having to wait up to two weeks.
Top priority patients, including hospital patients and health care workers, have quicker return times.
Quest said countrywide demand for testing is simply outpacing its capacity and that is true especially in the West, Southwest and South.
The company noted the United States is experiencing a surge in cases, with record numbers in the past week. It said it is adapting by obtaining FDA approval for new and faster testing techniques and asking providers to prioritize patients believed to be at higher risk.
“At Quest Diagnostics, we are doing everything we can to bring more COVID-19 molecular diagnostic testing to patients at this critical time,” the release said.
Despite the delays, the Douglas County COVID-19 Response Team continues its work following the Oregon Health Authority’s guidelines, tracing people who came into contact with those who’ve tested positive and asking them to self-quarantine either at home, with friends or family, or in motels, Howell said. Those in isolation receive continued support during their quarantine.
“Our teams have done an amazing job with case investigation and management, despite the delays with test results,” Howell said.
The team also continues to offer drive-thru testing at the Douglas County Fairgrounds.
In March, the drive-thru was providing most of the testing in the county. As other healthcare providers began offering testing as well, the percentage of total tests done by the drive-thru compared with all tests in the county has declined.
The News-Review compared statistics from the 20th of each month and found the percentage of testing done at the drive-thru dropped from 46% of all countywide tests on April 20 to 25% on May 20 to 18% on June 20 to 17% on July 20.
However, Howell said the demand for drive-thru tests has increased in recent weeks, and some of the largest testing numbers have been during that time.
According to the daily reports from the team, the drive-thru collected samples for 363 tests in the month-long period ending Monday, an uptick from previous months. That compares to 271 between May 20 and June 20; 174 between April 20 and May 20; and 282 between March 20 and April 20. The first of the drive-thru clinics was on March 17.
In total, 1,142 of the 6,680 tested countywide were tested at the drive-thru clinics.
Howell said the county has the capacity to cover the need and is ready if the demand for drive-thru testing continues to grow.