Private labs see increase in wait times for Covid-19 testing results

Most Pittsburgh-region hospitals aren’t seeing an increased lag in Covid-19 test results, although an Allegheny County health official said an extended timeline for some results has occurred due to a crush of testing at the national level.

Allegheny County Health Department Director Dr. Debra Bogen brought up the lag Tuesday afternoon as the county and the rest of southwestern Pennsylvania see the highest case numbers so far in the pandemic. Another 230 cases were reported Tuesday and 1,449 cases since the beginning of July. There were 1,997 new test results overnight with an 11% positivity rate.

“For a while our tests were returning very quickly, usually within two or three days. I have heard about a lag in results recently,” Bogen said. “I think that’s because the national labs are overwhelmed with the new surge in cases.”

Two major test providers, Quest Diagnostics and LabCorp, on Wednesday acknowledged increases in testing around the country has led to a longer-than-normal wait time for results. Quest said priority patients’ wait times are still one day but the average turnaround times for all others have gone from 3-5 days to 4-6 days recently. LabCorp said it could take 1-2 days longer for test results to come in.

“In recent weeks, we have seen a steady increase in demand for Covid-19 molecular testing, and we are doing everything we can to continue delivering results in a timely manner while continually increasing testing capacity,” a LabCorp spokeswoman said.

Neither UPMC nor Allegheny Health Network, the region’s two biggest players in health care, have reported any lag in test results. UPMC, which developed its own test and has deployed it across its system by the tens of thousands, generally gets results back within 24-48 hours, said UPMC spokesman Paul Wood.

AHN also has not seen a lag in testing, and most patients receive their results within 3-5 days. It administers about 300 tests per day across its testing sites and its mobile unit but doesn’t include inpatient tests.

“That number has increased notably since the first two weeks of June where we saw roughly 130 tests on average, per day,” said AHN spokeswoman Nikki Buccina.

St. Clair Hospital in Mt. Lebanon uses a combination of rapid-result tests in its own lab where the results come within the hour and its partnership with the Mayo Clinic for the bulk of its tests, said Dr. John Sullivan, St. Clair’s chief medical officer. There’s been no lag among St. Clair Hospital patients, but Sullivan said he’s heard in the community of some delays elsewhere.

The partnership with the Mayo Clinic has helped St. Clair maintain its testing turnaround times throughout the pandemic, said Meredith Borst, executive director of strategic initiatives at St. Clair.

“We definitely have seen an increase in the number of tests that have come through, but in our turnaround times, they pretty much are constant,” Borst said.

Excela Health has seen little change in the number of tests it does daily — about 140 — but the type of test taker has changed.

“Prior, we were testing certain asymptomatic populations (pre op, skilled nursing facility staff, etc.) whereas now we are seeing more symptomatic individuals,” Excela Health spokeswoman Robin Jennings said.

Test results are coming back within a week although it can vary from lab to lab for Excela.It has seen a slight increase in time before results come from an external lab in recent days.

That’s the case at Butler Health System as well for the tests that are not in-house. Butler Health System does about 90 tests daily for its in-house tests and gets the test results back the same day. But for an outside lab, which is about 125 tests per day, it could take between two and 10 days.

“Currently it takes 7-10 days for results to come back for routine Covid-19 molecular tests,” said spokeswoman Jana Panther. “Recently, turnaround time has increased significantly due to higher demand for testing.”

The state lab in Exton can test up to 1,200 samples a day. It doesn’t have a lag, said Department of Health spokeswoman Maggi Mumma.

“We can experience a lag of reporting cases from over a weekend, as would likely not show up for several days, between the incubation period and the time it takes for a lab test to occur, and then get results back to the department,” she said.

UPMC has been a leader in testing throughout Pennsylvania, developing its own test early in the crisis and then expanding as the pandemic deepened. UPMC began in April testing all patients coming in for surgeries and procedures as well as staff as the health system prioritizes safety.

UPMC has done about 20,000 tests of asymptomatic patients going in for surgeries and procedures and has had a positive rate of about 0.25%, Wood said. There has been no lag in the 24-48 hours for those results to come back, nor has there been any lag for the test results among UPMC’s health care workers.

Its South Side testing site also has a quick turnaround time, although a handful of low-priority tests may take a little longer if they are sent out to a non-UPMC lab.

UPMC also has had no problem finding any testing supplies, Wood said. UPMC’s deep bench early in the pandemic began to source its own supplies, including reagents and medium, as well as 3D printing of the plastic test swabs.

Rite Aid, which offers a self-administered test under the direction of a pharmacist at 97 locations including in the Pittsburgh region, said its test results have been coming back in between 3-5 days. Any delay that had occurred recently has been resolved, said Rite Aid spokesman Chris Savarese. Rite Aid (NYSE: RAD) said Wednesday that it had administered 200,000 tests, although the number in Pennsylvania was not available.

By Paul J. Gough  – Reporter, Pittsburgh Business Times