“The increasing demand for testing will mean that some members may match or exceed their current testing capabilities in the coming days,” said Julie Khani, president of the American Clinical Laboratory Association, which represents private laboratories such as LabCorp and Quest.
Test material preservation methods such as pooling are increasingly impracticable due to high positivity rates in communities across the country, Khani added.
Scott Becker, CEO of the Association of Public Health Laboratories, said the country has expanded its testing capacity significantly since the spring, but the current increase is “a terrible situation”.
“The labs are doing everything possible to achieve the additional capacity, but they are limited by supply and in some cases by test kits,” Becker said. “Some things have changed for the better, some have not.”
HHS test tsar Brett Giroir told POLITICO that the average turnaround time for commercial laboratories is currently 1.6 days. Laboratory tests make up a significant part of total testing capacity. However, according to HHS, there are 50 to 60 million point-of-care tests available this month.
“These tests should avoid much of the need for expensive referral labs that do not provide instant results and meet the infection control requirements of critical facilities such as nursing homes,” Giroir said. “If ACLA cannot provide adequate lead times, we look forward to an increase [point-of-care] tests and supports local public health laboratories to make up for the differences. “
Some private laboratories are facing delays or cancellations of orders for supplies such as pipette tips that are needed to run tests in light of increasing demand, Khani said.
HHS invested US $ 33 million in Swiss pipette tip manufacturer Tecan last month in response to “unprecedented demand”. However, it will take until next October to set up new domestic manufacturing and increase monthly production to 40 million. A Tecan spokesperson The company does not cancel orders, but admits that it is struggling to meet customer demand for the products.
The consumables testing crisis could call into question President-elect Joe Biden’s efforts to advance testing. Biden has called for a “Pandemic Testing Board” to be set up to increase production and distribution of tests, double the number of drive-through testing stations, and increase investment in new types of Covid-19 tests that can be done at home .
However, Becker said in-depth management has limited options to quickly expand access to testing needs. “In the past 10 months, decisions have been made in testing that make it difficult to turn this ship quickly,” Becker said.
Several public health experts told POLITICO that the CDC should make a greater effort to educate healthcare providers and the general public about understanding the role and limitations of different types of Covid-19 testing. Reducing unnecessary testing could help conserve care.
“There was a real lack of communication about how to understand results and when to test them,” said a former HHS official, who asked for anonymity. “Nobody really says, ‘Here’s how to test responsibly.'”
Giroir and lab directors urged people to be more strict about public health measures such as physical distancing, hand washing and wearing masks to curb the new surge in certain cases.
“Testing is an important facet of a public health strategy, but testing alone will not stop the virus from spreading,” Khani said. “We need to take the necessary steps to contain the virus in all communities.”