West Virginia officials monitor for delays in virus test results

CHARLESTON — With more West Virginians being tested for the novel coronavirus, the state’s team of medical professionals and public health experts are concerned about possible lag times between COVID-19 tests and the test results.

According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, diagnostic testing labs are starting to see wait times increase between when COVID-19 tests are administered and when the patient receives the results.

While hospital patients and those with symptoms are considered priorities for fast results, asymptomatic people getting tested at drive-thru labs, health centers, urgent care facilities, and pharmacy chains can see anywhere between seven to 10 days for results. In states with the fastest growing case totals, some are reporting as long as 22 days between the test and receiving results.

“It’s a national problem,” said Gov. Jim Justice when asked about the delays on Wednesday’s virtual briefing with the press. “I don’t like the fact that the lag is one day, and I know in situations the lag is seven days and even greater in some spots. For the most part it’s not, but in some places it is.”

“The time lag is across the country and that’s because of all the samples that every lab is getting,” Dr. Ayne Amjad, the newly appointed state health officer and commissioner of the Bureau of Public Health, said. “Unfortunately, that is something we have to deal with.”

Bill Crouch, secretary of the Department of Health and Human Resources, said the state lab in South Charleston had been running as much as eight days between tests and results, though those numbers have improved recently.

“They pledged to get that timeline down and they’re now running four to five days,” Crouch said.

Amjad said the state is working with multiple commercial labs across the state, including LabCorp and QLabs. When the outbreak first started in the state in March, the DHHR’s lab in South Charleston was handling COVID-19 testing until hospitals and commercial labs came online.

West Virginia University is also expected to have a testing lab up and running by October.

“Right now, in DHHR we are working to try to get more lab contracts to see if we can fix that problem and trying to get one in the state itself, so we don’t have such a lag time,” Amjad said. “Unfortunately, that’s not something we can speed the process with, but we are working very quickly to try to deal with that.”

Dr. Clay Marsh, the state coronavirus czar, said there are other options for getting results quickly, such as rapid testing which can be used at point of contact and get results quickly. CNBC reported Wednesday that Quest Diagnostics received emergency approval from the Food and Drug Administration for a new way of processing results to do multiple batches at one time. But Marsh said the current demand is causing issues for these large commercial labs.

“Many of these big national companies are doing testing, because of the incredible demand, have seen their results pushed out to seven and even 14 days,” Marsh said. “That is very difficult to be able to utilize in those settings of acute need to understand what is going on.”

“It does cause some issues, especially with people trying to quarantine and wait for those results, but we are trying to address that as quickly as possible,” Amjad agreed.

Justice said the state has leveraged federal dollars to increase its testing capability. The West Virginia National Guard is working on ways to manufacture testing supplies within the state to be less reliant on the international supply chain. Justice said WVU’s lab, when it is up and running, will be a huge help.

“We’ll have much much more capacity,” Justice said. “If the average wait time is four or five days now, that to me is right at the threshold where we want to push it back down. We don’t want to all of a sudden awaken to an average threshold of eight or nine days and then we’re chasing the car rather than driving the car.”

Steven Allen Adams can be reached at sadams@newsandsentinel.com.


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