In Denver, employees closed a test site within an hour of opening Tuesday because it reached capacity. Elsewhere, the lines have increased so long that employees have closed due to traffic safety concerns. In New York, residents stand in line for hours. In Olympia, Washington, in recent days, employees had to queue up to 200 cars in a queue as laboratories had reached capacity.
When 22-year-old Sarah Haas recently tried to book a coronavirus test in the Chicago suburbs, she could not find an open-plan clinic for the next three days. She expanded her search to any CVS or Walgreens within a two-hour drive. Still nothing.
Finally, she headed to a test site set up by state authorities in a free parking lot in the southwestern suburb of Aurora, Illinois.
For three hours she approached the torturous caravan.
“I listened to an audiobook, played music, tweeted pictures of the line,”
Demand for the Aurora test site throughout Illinois has been booming in recent weeks. In September, the site had an average of 325 tests a day; he now performs more than 1,000 daily, said Kevin Jacques. He is a spokesman for the Illinois Covid-19 test project, which manages 10 free test sites and eight mobile sites in the state.
“Demand is growing everywhere,” Jacques said. “The labs we work with have asked us to limit the number we do because they can no longer process them fast enough to achieve the 72-hour turnaround.”
Waiting more than three days for test results makes them much less useful, health officials say, because those who have come in contact with the infected may begin to become infected on their own. Residents also base their actions – such as whether to continue to isolate themselves – on results.
Jaques and other testing officials said they were worried that long queues and delays could dissuade people from testing at a time when rapid and widespread testing is crucial.
The resumption of test delays is sabotaging America’s ability to thwart escaped viral transmission and growing lives. Compared to the previous one during the pandemic, the country is doing much more testing – more than 1.4 million daily tests conducted in recent days, compared to 100,000 to 300,000 per day in the spring, according to the Covid tracking project. The project is a voluntary effort to collect data from state health agencies.
The problem is that even as the nation’s growing testing capacity grew, so did demand. Initially, it was driven by the resumption of business, the reopening of schools, and people leaving their homes. But in recent months, a record increase in infections has led to an increase in demand for tests, which exceeds the ability of laboratories to cope.
In a public warning last week, the American Association of Clinical Laboratories – which represents large commercial laboratories such as LabCorp and Quest Diagnostics – warned that growing demand for coronavirus tests would soon push laboratories out of capacity, slowing results.
In addition to depleting the necessary chemicals and tampons – as has happened many times since the beginning of the pandemic – many laboratories say they lack other equipment, such as pipettes, a laboratory instrument used to carry fluid.
Test sites say they are also short of workers to deal with the wave.
The Clinical Laboratory Group emphasized in its statement that some strategies used to increase capacity, such as pooling test samples, are only useful “for low-risk or low-prevalence populations” and can no longer be used with the virus, which is now raging on control.
With a glimmer of encouraging news, federal regulators on Tuesday approved the first quick test at home – the Lucira Health All-in-One test kit. The company expects to sell its test for less than $ 50 and will require a prescription. While experts saw the news as a promising development, it will not reach the national market until early spring, when Lucira increases production, the company said.
Although public health labs have not yet noticed significant delays, it is probably only a matter of time before they do, said Scott Becker, chief executive of the Association of Public Health Laboratories.
“Apart from supply problems, the only thing people can do is all the public health measures we’ve been talking about for months – camouflage, distancing, not grouping,” Becker said. “Or our testing capacity just won’t work.”
In recent days, testing staff say that many people who come to be tested are there before trips to see family or Thanksgiving gatherings. But that may not be a perfectly sensible strategy, experts say.
“The test is only valid for a certain period of time. You can test negative one day and be positive the next, ”Becker said. “Are these people being tested more than once?” Are they quarantined between the time they test the test and the time they see people? Are they exposed at the airport or on the road to see their family? “
Despite warnings from experts to take precautions before the holidays, many public health experts expect infections to rise after Thanksgiving, as happened after Remembrance Day, July 4, Labor Day and Halloween.
In recent days, some experts have expressed hope that testing problems in the country will find some relief from President-elect Joe Biden, who said he plans to set up a national testing commission to expand tests similar to President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s war. Production board.
“We need an interconnected system of laboratories. You have overcrowded commercial and university labs with huge capacities, but there is no great system for distributing tests for them, “said Eileen O’Connor, senior vice president of the Rockefeller Foundation, which is working to improve the tests. “As a country, we have been talking about this problem with tests for months, and it is appalling that we have not yet done what is necessary.”
The lack of a national testing strategy has become particularly apparent in recent weeks as new testing technologies have emerged.
The United States now has several different types of anti-virus deployment tests: slower but more accurate molecular PCR tests, faster but less accurate antigenic tests (which detect proteins on the surface of the virus), new tests based on editing technology. of CRISPR genes and community surveillance that relies on wastewater testing.
Experts have repeatedly recommended their strategic deployment in a multilateral approach.
According to them, in areas with low levels of infection, wastewater monitoring tests should be used as an early warning signal. If the wastewater suggests the onset of an outbreak, rapid tests can be used to test an entire community overnight. Then those who test positively at home tests can get their status with more accurate PCR tests.
On Monday, Assistant Secretary of Health Brett Giroard, Trump’s chief test officer, said the administration had worked hard to expand the tests, sent millions of rapid tests to nursing homes and other facilities, and helped states open places. for overvoltage testing.
“I don’t know where the lines are,” Giroar said. “The best way to solve test problems, if any, is to take public health measures. … In crowded rooms, wearing masks. “
On Wednesday, four days after passing this time line in the Chicago suburbs for testing, Sarah Haas said she was still waiting to get results. “I don’t want to make anyone sick at work, so I tried to do the right thing,” she said.
“But I’m 20 years old. “I have time to kill,” she said. “Imagine how difficult this is for people who have children who have to stop working. The way they are currently running will simply not work. “