In a recent week, a New Yorker had a free COVID-19 test in the blink of an eye, and her result the next day, while a Colorado resident had to shell out $ 50 for a two-test. away from his hometown after a frenzied round of pharmacy visits.
A Montana resident drove an hour out and back for a test, wondering if the result would take five days again.
While the covid test is much easier to obtain than it was at the beginning of the pandemic, the ability to obtain it, with timely results, can vary widely across the country. A fragmented test system, complicated logistics, technician burnout, and peaks in need of needing a bumpy ride on this bumpy ride.
“We are still where we were 18 months ago,” said Rebecca Stanfel, the Montana woman who was tested in Helena in September and had to wait five days for the result after being exposed to someone with the virus.
Unpredictable waits can be a problem for those trying to plan a trip, return to school after quarantine, or even, if they have, receive a life-saving monoclonal antibody treatment within the optimal window.
The White House said in early October that it plans to purchase $ 1 billion worth of rapid antigen tests to help improve access to hard-to-find over-the-counter kits. But people also face problems obtaining molecular tests, including PCR tests, which are the gold standard in testing.
Public health laboratories are no longer paralyzed by bottlenecks in the supply of individual test components, such as swabs or reagents, emphasized Kelly Wroblewski, director of infectious disease programs at the Association of Public Health Laboratories. But they still carry a heavy burden of proof, which, at this point, was expected to weigh on commercial or hospital laboratories.
Labs of all kinds also face a worker shortage as do restaurants, he said. Mara Aspinall, co-founder of the Arizona State University Biomedical Diagnostic Program, who also writes a weekly newsletter who monitors nationwide testing capacity and sits on the board of a rapid testing company.
“The staff shortage is very, very real and it is preventing people from increasing their capacity,” he said.
Something as simple as proximity also marks how quickly the examinees obtained results.
“Northern Maine is a good example,” Aspinall said. “Everything you do with PCR will take you one more day because you have to transport the sample by plane or car.”
Even in a place like Longmont, Colorado, close to many labs and hospitals, PCR samples from the local mass testing site are airlifted nightly to a lab in North Carolina.
First massive test site recently moved to its original location at the county fairgrounds after being in a small church parking lot during the summer. Demand for PCR testing in the county quadrupled from 600 weekly tests in July to 2,500 in September.
Chris Campbell, Boulder County Public Health emergency manager, attributes this to reopening schools, an increase in infections and the difficulty in purchasing over-the-counter rapid tests.
Campbell said it sometimes took residents four or five days to get their PCR results, though that was reduced to two as the contractor they work with, Mako Medical, has regained its laboratory capacity.
“There is no excuse for such a long response time. It really affects our ability to really slow down the transmission, ”Campbell said. “And it also has an economic impact on businesses, schools and kindergartens.”
Mako’s lab operates 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and the company uses private jets to speed up shipping, according to a statement from Josh Arant, chief operating officer. While Mako’s average weekly response time never exceeded 72 hours last month, the statement says that in recent weeks it has returned the results to area residents an average of 46 hours after the sample was collected.
Now there are portable devices that can eliminate the need to submit samples. They can perform molecular analysis, including PCR, in less than an hour, a process that typically takes four to five hours in a laboratory.
A Washington, DC test truck has three Cepheid machines, each the size of a printer. Combined, they can provide PCR results to a dozen people in less than an hour, at no cost to examinees.
Still, demand outstrips supply for such rapid molecular tests, due in large part to the rollercoaster of case surges, described Doug Sharpe, vice president of lab equity sales at Medline Industries, which supplies COVID test components to labs across the country. “We are not paralyzed. We are selling more trials than we did at the height of 2020, ″ he added.
Gigi Kwik Gronvall, an immunologist at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security who directs the monitoring the covid testing center, suggested that the variability in the time it takes to get results has created a sellers market if companies can deliver results in a specific time. “People are going to pay for that kind of guarantee,” he said. “There is this potential for people to be plucked, sure there is.”
MedRite It offers PCR results analyzed in three hours in New York and Florida for those who are willing to pay more than $ 200 each. The company offers other tests, such as antigen tests and slower PCR tests in the lab, at no out-of-pocket cost.
Celeste Di Iorio felt plucked after spending a day driving from one pharmacy to another in Fort Collins, Colorado, looking for proof that would give an answer in less than three days. As a musician, he had been traveling out of state and wanted to know if it could be contagious before attending, among other things, a memorial for a relative who had died of covid. She and her partner finally finished rapid antigen testing at a pharmacy two cities away.
“We paid $ 50 each for these tests, which annoys me,” he said. “Because, you know, we’ve all been out of work for a year and a half, and this state has the money.”
In Helena, Montana, Stanfel has had a PCR test every week for many months because he takes immunosuppressive medications for a rare disease called sarcoidosis.
Her doctors said she was tested regularly because, although she is fully vaccinated and has received an extra “booster” dose, she would probably need monoclonal antibody treatment as soon as possible if she contracted covranid to prevent an infrared covranid to prevent.
When Stanfel discovered that a friend he had visited had tested positive for COVID, he immediately got a test at her doctor’s office. It took him five days to find out that it was negative.
Montana’s public health laboratory is located in the city of Stanfel, but state health department spokesman Jon Ebelt said the volume of testing since early August has exceeded the laboratory’s capacity. For this reason, they had to prioritize the tests of hospitalized or symptomatic people and send other samples to private laboratories, a process that can extend the waiting time up to seven days to obtain results.
In New York City, where mobile testing vans are stationed in every borough and in-person home testing is offered, residents report that molecular test results are quick because of the cerium labs analyzing their samples.
For example, in Manhattan, Justin Peck returned from a car trip through Canada on a Tuesday night, walked about five minutes to a mobile test van on Wednesday, and obtained PCR results on Thursday morning, leaving him behind. free just in time to go to work for the first time in 18 months as a dancer, in the cast of “The Phantom of the Opera,” on Broadway.
Flu season can increase demand and make things more complicated, Aspinall says.
Contact us Submit a story suggestion