NEW YORK (AP) – With growing cases of coronavirus and families hoping to gather safely for Thanksgiving, long testing queues have reappeared in the United States – a reminder that the nation’s testing system still can’t deal with the virus.
The delays are happening as the country prepares for winter, flu season and holiday travel, all of which are expected to intensify the U.S. outbreak, which has already swelled after 11.5 million cases and 250,000 deaths.
Laboratories have warned that the continuing shortage of key supplies is likely to create more bottlenecks and delays, especially as cases increase across the country and people rush to get tested before reuniting with relatives.
“As these cases increase, demand increases and lead times can increase,”
The lines covered many city blocks on test sites in New York this week, leaving people waiting three or more hours before they could even enter health clinics. In Los Angeles, thousands lined up in front of Dodger Stadium to test drive.
“It’s crazy,” Shaunta Reno, 39, said as she entered her fourth class, waiting to enter the so-called Brooklyn Rapid Testing Site on Tuesday. Reno and her husband planned to be examined before Thanksgiving, when they would take her mother to the party. “We’ve tested before and it wasn’t like that,” she said.
On the one hand, the fact that testing problems are only now emerging – more than a month after the last influx of viruses – is evidence of the country’s increased capacity. The United States tests an average of more than 1.5 million people a day, more than twice the rate in July, when many Americans last faced long queues.
But experts such as Johns Hopkins University researcher Gigi Gronval said the United States has not yet reached the level needed to control the virus.
Gronval said the current testing speed was “on track, but not close to what is needed to change the course of this epidemic.” Many experts call for between 4 million and 15 million tests to suppress the virus each day.
The Trump administration estimates that the United States has enough tests this month to check between 4 million and 5 million people a day. But this does not fully reflect the conditions in the real world. The tests used in most test sites rely on specialized chemicals and equipment that have been chronically deficient for months.
Administrator Brett Giroard, a U.S. official who oversaw the testing, downplayed reports of lines and delays earlier this week. In some cases, he said, the lines are caused by a lack of a schedule of test sites, which should shake up commitments.
“I am sure this will happen from time to time, but we are aggressively helping states in any way we can, if there are such problems,” Giroare said on Monday.
Margaret Winter, 28, stood in line for more than two hours to take a test on Monday in Chicago. She plans to fly to see her mother in Massachusetts for Thanksgiving and stay for Christmas. Massachusetts requires visitors to quarantine for two weeks or show evidence of a negative test.
“It’s just safer to be close to your family,” Winter said. “It’s just to have peace of mind to know I’m fine.”
In California, health officials gave mixed messages about whether residents should be tested before the holiday.
The San Francisco Emergency Management Department has warned that people should not use a test to determine if they can travel. But Contra Costa, on the other side of the bay, suggests anyone who insists on reuniting with friends or relatives be tested.
On Tuesday, federal regulators approved the first rapid test for coronavirus that can be done at home. It gives results in 30 minutes and will cost about $ 50. But the Lucira Health test kit will only be available by prescription and will not be available until spring.
As bad as the wait for testing becomes, it’s still better than July, when the United States was almost entirely dependent on tests, which often take two or more days to process labs, even under ideal conditions. Because cases exceeded 70,000 a day, many people had to wait a week or more to learn their results, making the information almost useless for isolating and tracking cases.
In recent months, federal health officials have distributed approximately 60 million rapid point care tests that give results in 15 minutes. They helped reduce some of the pressure on large laboratories. But not enough.
As of September 15, the daily number of tests in the United States has increased by almost 100%, based on a seven-day moving average. However, the average daily value of new cases of COVID-19 has increased by more than 300%, to more than 161,000 since Wednesday, according to an AP analysis.
This week, Quest Diagnostics warned that demand for mushrooms for testing has increased its execution time to just over two days.
The laboratory company said the operations were hampered by a shortage of test chemicals, pipettes – the thin tubes used to measure and distribute chemicals – and other supplies. These items are manufactured by a small number of manufacturers around the world.
Faced with supply constraints and growing demand, many hospitals have been forced to send some COVID-19 tests to large laboratories such as Quest for treatment, delaying patient results.
“If I can do the COVID test internally, we’re talking a small number of hours. If I have to send him to a reference laboratory, we’ll talk for days, “said Dr. Patrick Godby, director of the laboratory at the Regional Medical Center in Southeast Georgia.
Godby emphasized a strong thesis that health officials have been pushing for months: The US epidemic is too big to be limited by testing alone. Americans must follow basic measures such as wearing masks, social distancing, and washing their hands frequently.
“You can’t experience a pandemic,” said Godby, who is also president of the College of American Pathologists.
On Tuesday, in line at the Brooklyn Emergency Clinic – her second attempt to be tested that day – Monica Solis, 28, echoed that feeling. “The lines remind us that we are still experiencing this and we still do not have a perfect answer,” she said.
Perone reported from Washington. Associated Press data journalist Nicki Forster of New York contributed to the report, as did AP writers Stephanie Dazio and Brian Mellie of Los Angeles; Sofia Tarin in Chicago; and Gianni Har in San Francisco.
The Associated Press’s Department of Health and Science is supported by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Scientific Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.