Delays and Shortages Exacerbate Coronavirus Testing Gaps in the U.S.
New York Times
A growing number of rapid tests for COVID-19 are coming onto the market, and some private companies are conducting thousands of COVID-19 tests per day. However, demand for testing has inundated many labs and testing sites, resulting in delays in getting results, say doctors and officials nationwide. Swabs and reagents are also in short supply in many COVID-19 hot spots. The latest test approvals by the Food and Drug Administration include one by Abbott Laboratories, called ID Now. Darcy Ross, a spokeswoman for Abbott, says the company had shipped its new, fast-turnaround test to 18 states, and the federal government is purchasing Abbott test instruments for state public labs. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services spokeswoman Mia Heck says it was sending 15 machines each to public health labs in all 50 states and the Pacific islands, and 250 to the Indian Health Service. Julio E. Figueroa, MD, chief of infectious diseases at Louisiana State University School of Medicine in New Orleans, says drive-through and tent-testing sites had helped ease a backlog. He says his hospital was sending fewer to LabCorp, which had an average return of 4-5 days, and instead is relying on the Roche diagnostic test, which can be done in-house. However, Figueroa says the hospital lacks sufficient supplies to do as many of the tests as he would like.
Shortage of Test Components Forces Labs to Beg, Borrow and Improvise
Wall Street Journal
To secure supplies needed to conduct COVID-19 tests, labs are taking a variety of steps. Steve Miller, a professor of laboratory medicine at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), observes: "Doing any testing requires four things: space, staff, instrumentation, reagents. We found that all four of those have had to be dealt with and expanded." UCSF turned to a nearby research institution to take advantage of its high-throughput machines and expertise, and the institution says the combined team can now conduct more than 1,000 tests per day if needed. Representatives at Stanford University have been meeting with companies worldwide, obtained donated kits from shuttered research labs, and the institution is also making its own kits, according to Dr. Yvonne Maldonado, an infectious-disease physician at Stanford Medicine. To address the shortage of swabs, the Food and Drug Administration has offered a list of potential alternatives, such as Northwell Health's 3-D-printed swabs, of which up to 2,000 to 3,000 can be made per day. Viral transport media is also becoming scarce, prompting many institutions and labs to make it themselves. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on March 21 posted an online do-it-yourself recipe for the product. Graduate students and postdoctorates from UCSF and Columbia University in New York have also offered to assist at their institutions. In Tennessee, two science teachers who are also PhD research scientists validated a test in their high school's lab and rushed to obtain certification. The lab now processes approximately 75 tests a day, says Becky Barnes, the health-department administrator for Hamilton County, Tenn.
Where Are Clinical Labs in the Coronavirus Plan?
Wall Street Journal
In a letter, American Clinical Laboratory Association (ACLA) President Julie Khani notes that although the United States has achieved gains to prevent the spread of COVID-19, significant work still needs to be done. In just approximately three weeks, ACLA members conducted more than 480,000 tests and continue to broaden capacity. "But what we have seen from the front lines of this pandemic demands the administration and Congress's attention and immediate response," Khani asserts, noting that clinical labs need more swabs, reagents, and other resources. "We must immediately provide labs with the resources they need and help hospitals and physicians prioritize who gets tested," according to Khani. She points out that labs are also experiencing a decline in non-COVID-19 testing as patient visits to physicians decline and elective surgeries, screenings, and routine care services are delayed. Noting that Congress "failed to designate emergency funding for laboratories responding to the COVID-19 pandemic," Khani calls on policy makers to "step up and do their part to meet this need."