Backlog at testing labs delays notification to patients, causing potential exposure to others

Published: Mar. 24, 2020 at 10:13 PM EDT
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - A Charlotte woman who was tested for COVID-19 waited an entire week to learn she was negative for the virus.

She self-quarantined in her home while she waited for the results, but she worried about the hundreds of other employees who report to the same office building as she did before she was tested.

“We’re in complete lockdown here,” the woman who wishes to remain anonymous said on Sunday before her results came back. “I have people at my office that need to know if I am positive, if they need to go get tested.”

The woman says she went to a Novant Health facility on Monday, March 16 for testing. She was told her sample would be sent to LabCorp for testing. LabCorp’s website estimates most test results will come back within three to four days.

When she didn’t receive her results by Thursday, she called for an update. On Friday, she was told it may take six or seven days to get her results. On Saturday, she was told it may take 10 days to come back.

“My managers are waiting. You don’t want to cause panic and send out the message that you have someone that’s potentially positive,” the woman said. “If I were positive and the people in my office were to catch it from me, they wouldn’t get tested. So how would we ever have accurate information of who has it and who doesn’t.”

WBTV asked LabCorp why her test and others were delayed. A spokesperson maintains that most tests take three to four days to be returned. The response reads:

“We cannot comment on individual experiences nor is it appropriate for us to advise patients (or those around them) on what action to take. What I can tell you is that LabCorp is working every second of every day to increase the number of tests that we can run. The turnaround time to provide test results is typically three to four days from the pickup of the specimen to release of the test result.”

But in a meeting with Mecklenburg County Commissioners Thursday, Mecklenburg County Health Director Gibbie Harris addressed the backlog of tests.

“LabCorp has - we can only assume - has been backed up. Because we are not getting some of those test, we know some people who have been almost two weeks out waiting for test results. So that is a problem. We understand that they’re working to clear out that backlog, but the last I heard we had at least 3,000 pending tests in Mecklenburg County. We understand that they’re continuing to clear up that backlog, but the last I heard was we had 3,000 pending tests,” Gibbie said. “So, we’re testing people we’re just not getting the test results back quickly.”

WBTV asked the State Health Director Dr. Elizabeth Cuervo Tilson about the issue. Specifically, if someone is waiting several days for test results, should their coworkers or others they may have exposed be isolating themselves too?

“Yes, we are saying that a household contact or a close contact should try to remain at home and self-monitor their symptoms for 14 days,” Dr. Tilson said.

“Even if they just tell everyone it’s going to be 10 days before we can get you the results so we aren’t sitting here waiting and trying to find out, that would help dissuade some of the confusion and people panicking unnecessarily,” the woman said. “My manager did reach out to the two people who traveled with me and told them to self-quarantine and they are, but I don’t think their families are. And if I have the virus, that’s how it spreads. So, I think if we want to control it, we need to get a bit more control over the information we’re sharing with people.

The woman WBTV interviewed Sunday received her test results on Monday. She tested negative for COVID-19.

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