Test result turnaround times delayed; State leaders express concern over Charlotte hospital capacity

How available are coronavirus tests?

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - State health leaders say the state is beginning to experience capacity issues as case numbers and hospitalizations increase.

DHHS Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen and Governor Roy Cooper said there is a nationwide shortage of supplies needed for testing, such as chemical reagents. Without those supplies, test result turnaround times are delayed.

Secretary Cohen estimates wait times for test results average anywhere from 6-7 days.

Novant Health provides rapid testing via Abott IDNOW, which can turnaround results within 15 minutes. A spokesperson for the health system says rapid testing is prioritized for patients experiencing symptoms. Those who are asymptomatic will still be tested, but their test results will likely be processed through LabCorp.

A spokesperson for LabCorp says at one point, the company was turning around test results within about 1-2 days, but that has since slowed. Right now, LabCorp says they are averaging about 4-6 days from specimen pickup.

“But with significant increases in testing demand and constraints in the availability of suppliese and equipment, the average time to deliver results may now be 4-6 days from specimen pickup. For hospitalized patients, the average time for results is faster.”

“As additional equipment and supplies become available, we expect to be able to expand capacity and improve the time to return results.”

A spokesperson for CVS MinuteClinics say high demand and supply shortages are causing turnaround times at its facilities to be between 5-7 days.

“The increase in cases of COVID-19 in certain areas of the country is causing extremely high demand for tests across the board. This has caused backlogs for our lab partners and is delaying their processing of patient samples. Currently, due to these factors, it may take at least 5-7 days for people to receive their results. Our lab partners are working hard to address this issue,” The spokesperson said.

Atrium Health did not get back to WBTV with average turnaround times by press time. This article will be updated.

Secretary Cohen says the State’s Public Health Lab has enough testing reagent and supplies to complete testing needs because they receive supplies from the CDC. She says, however, hospital systems are struggling to get supplies through the supply chain.

“Then they’re having to rely on moving their samples and getting them run at the commercial labs that are already seeing a high volume,” Dr. Cohen said.

Cohen says the state is working with the federal government to identify shortages in the supply chain. She is asking for more transparency.

“Where are these supplies? Where are they going? We know in North Carolina we aren’t the only ones experiencing this. So, I think the first step we would ask for is transparency and how can we improve these supply chains as we go forward here,” Dr. Cohen said.

In addition to testing capacity, Cohen and Governor Roy Cooper say they are keeping a close eye on hospital capacity, specifically in Charlotte.

“Had a call with all the hospitals in the Charlotte area and I’ll say - they are doing a great job and are really being thoughtful about planning for more. At this point there is not further need for intervention, but we will continue to assess this decision,” Cohen said.

Rise in cases causing hospital capacity concerns

Statewide, about 79 percent of in-patient hospital beds are taken, 78 percent of ICU beds are taken, and there are more than 2,500 ventilators available.

Earlier Thursday, Atrium Health Medical Director of Infection Prevention Dr. Katie Passeretti said the hospital system was handling the current caseload fine.

“Our hospitalizations have continued to gradually tick up but at least in our area we’ve been able to handle both COVID-postive patients and the patients that are in the hospital or treatment for other reasons,” Dr. Passaretti said.

Novant Health responded to WBTV’s questions about capacity with the following statement:

“When the coronavirus first really started to hit our communities in mid-March, we made the careful decision to limit some services. During this time, which is also when a stay-at-home order was in place, we were able to greatly increase our capacity, by about 60%, and reinforce our supply chain. For about two months (since early May) we’ve been balancing our COVID-19 response while resuming those postponed services and continue to fine-tune our ability to toggle between our COVID-19 cases and tier 4 recovery patients. We don’t see a scenario during a second wave, or surge, where we’d again have a need to put a pause on non-essential surgeries or appointments in large part because of our diligent preparedness planning over that time period. We continue to work on team member resiliency and prepare for the redeployment of our care teams should we need that additional workflow and support.”

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