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As Missouri’s COVID-19 testing ramps up, companies struggle to pump out timely results

As Missouri’s COVID-19 testing ramps up, companies struggle to pump out timely results

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COVID-19 testing at Canfield Green

Barbara Walls, of Jennings, dances in celebration on Friday, May 29, 2020, after completing a free test for COVID-19 with LaJoyce McDonald, center, a nurse with Affinia Healthcare, and Medical Assistant Nichole Wells at Canfield Green Apartments in Ferguson. Affinia tested about 26 people free of charge, no appointment necessary. (Christian Gooden, cgooden@post-dispatch.com)

JEFFERSON CITY — In May, Missouri officials signed contracts with 11 private laboratories to process tests for COVID-19 within a 72-hour window.

But ongoing testing for the deadly virus has resulted in a logjam at some of those labs, pushing the time frame for getting results to more than a week in some cases.

Among those frustrated by the long wait is Matt Holland, a resident of the Dogtown neighborhood in St. Louis, whose daughter was tested Friday after she began experiencing some of the symptoms of the disease.

On Tuesday, hoping to find out her status, he called the clinic at which she was tested and was told results might not come until next week, 11 days after her initial test.

He’s staying home out of caution and his daughter, 19, is staying in her room.

“She’s been up there for five days now with no human contact,” Holland said. “I just feel bad for my daughter being stuck in that room.”

There were similar circumstances in the capital city: People who were tested this week at a community event were told their results would be available within a week.

It’s not just frustrating to individuals. According to the St. Louis Department of Public Health, reporting delays present a barrier to preventing the spread of the virus.

“Positive test results trigger isolation and contact tracing, essential tools to preventing the spread of the COVID-19. Negative test results reduce and eliminate anxiety,” the agency said.

The department also said delayed reporting from the laboratories combined with delays in data entry at the state health department also may present inaccurate pictures of the impact of the virus when results finally are issued and the data entry backlog is resolved.

“Cases not being reported in a timely manner could appear as a resurgence when it’s really just how they are being reported,” the department added.

After reporting 773 new cases Tuesday — the largest single-day increase on record — the Department of Health and Senior Services said there were 575 new cases on Wednesday.

DHSS spokeswoman Lisa Cox attributed the big jump in cases to delays in receiving data reports from the labs. But, she said the community testing events around the state have not been experiencing the testing delays experienced by others.

“The individual tested is told they will receive their results within 7 days to err on the side of caution, but we do everything to get the result to them as quickly as possible once we are notified by the lab. We have been receiving the majority of results within 48 hours of the testing event,” Cox said.

In May, when the state sought companies to assist with testing, Quest Diagnostics — one of a handful of large, national testing companies — said it would get results in three days, according to contract language submitted by the company.

“Quest Diagnostics will make every reasonable effort to report results within 72 hours from receipt of the specimen in our laboratory providing the order for that test was received electronically,” the company said.

The company said it would use its lab in Lenexa, Kansas, to process Missouri tests. The company also said it could send tests to other sites.

“Quest Diagnostics has a national network of full-service laboratories that can perform COVID-19 testing in the event volumes exceed the capacity at the regional lab in Lenexa,” it said.

The backlog is puzzling to Raza Naqvi, president of Bridgeton-based AIM Laboratories, which is one of the state testing contractors.

He said the testing volume at his company has dropped, meaning he has the capacity to take on more tests and get results faster. He said he has tried to convince state officials to send more business his way.

“We are a Missouri lab. We’re also one of the cheapest. Why don’t you give us the opportunity?” he said Wednesday. “There is no communication back from them.”

There now have been at least 25,204 cases of the coronavirus in the state. Missouri also reported four additional COVID-19 deaths Wednesday, bringing the total to 1,046 so far during the pandemic.

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