Backlogs at private laboratories have ballooned, making it difficult to treat patients and contain the COVID-19 pandemic.1 To assist in bringing the coronavirus pandemic under control, widespread testing is required to detect current and past infections. Testing can help guide treatment and quarantine decisions as well as offer data to understand the extent of the COVID-19 outbreak.
However, more testing means more pressure on laboratories, specifically with regard to labor and test turnaround time (TAT). Most of the current COVID-19-related lab tests take about a day to return results; some point-of-care tests are faster but need to be run one at a time, which is inefficient. And regardless of the test, there is a need for people to log the test, run the test, ensure quality controls are in place and report results. Right now, there is a shortage of skilled labor to support the influx of demand.2
Lab turnaround time is also vitally important. Time-to-negative results for a mildly ill patient can create a bottleneck and prevent physicians from focusing on patients who are infected. Patients who are intubated and sick cannot be given experimental drugs until they receive a positive PCR test result. According to Geoff Baird, acting laboratory-medicine chair at the University of Washington, “[TAT of] more than a day is a tragedy. Three to five is okay for outpatients if they can sit at home, but it doesn’t address the problem in a hospital.”3