3 reasons COVID-19 testing, timeliness varies across US

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The nation's COVID-19 testing capacity has greatly expanded since the start of the pandemic, but testing access and turnaround times still vary across the U.S., Kaiser Health News reported Oct. 14.

The publication spoke with one New Yorker who received a free COVID-19 test and got results back the next day, while a Montanan had to drive an hour each way to her testing site, only to get the results five days later.

Kaiser Health News outlined three factors contributing to this variation:

High testing volumes. While supply shortages are no longer slowing testing efforts, public health labs are still struggling to keep up with a large testing load, according to Kelly Wroblewski, director of infectious disease programs for the Association of Public Health Laboratories. Ms. Wroblewski said she had expected much of this load to shift to commercial or hospital-based laboratories by this point in the pandemic.  

Fragmented testing systems. Turnaround times for test results largely depend on a testing site's proximity to its lab. In some cases, these sites may be in different states. For example, a mass testing site in Longmont, Colo., ships its samples by air every night to a lab in North Carolina.

Staff shortages. Many testing sites are facing worker shortages, which is preventing them from increasing capacity, according to Mara Aspinall, co-founder of the biomedical diagnostics program at Tempe-based Arizona State University. Ms. Aspinall is predicting flu season will cause another spike in demand for COVID-19 testing as people seek to determine the cause of their symptoms, which could further exacerbate staffing issues. 

"We're at a very precarious point," she told Kaiser Health News. "It's not enough to go forward if the testing volume continues as I expect it will."

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