They need to process your Covid tests. Now they’re out sick from Omicron.

“I think what is going to happen is when this thing moves through the big population states like Texas and California, the S — is really going to hit the fan because there just isn’t enough people and lab technicians to run these labs keep going. “, Said Feldmann.

While the supply chain for once scarce equipment like test kits and pipette tips remains intact, the sheer demand for tests is expanding the sampling points and laboratory staff. A source in the pharmacy industry told POLITICO that staffing problems in the laboratory are already limiting test capacity and lead times for tests carried out through large retail chains.

“The question is how well they keep up,” said Celine Gounder, an infectious disease specialist who advised on the Covid-19 response of the Biden transition. “When you get to the point where, as we’ve seen in some cities, the lines for a PCR test are hours and you go to every retail pharmacy in your neighborhood and the rapid antigen tests are all sold out, at some point they’ll give People up and say it’s just trouble. It is not worth.”

According to a. more than 2 million test results per day, a record high Tracker administered by Johns Hopkins University. However, public health experts warn that millions of home test results are missing due to widespread public underreporting and inconsistent data collection by health officials across the country. Show CDC data shows that more than 554,000 Covid-19 infections are registered every day – a number that experts consider to be a significant number.

The White House is “actively following the problem of staff shortages and is currently examining how we can help,” a senior administration official told POLITICO.

To get a better picture in real time, labs may need to increase their workforce and add shifts. But that could prove difficult with so many technicians who are sick.

“We haven’t had a specific hit in the lab where we needed to deploy some sort of emergency personnel,” said William Morice, president of Mayo Clinic Laboratories. “But overall, we definitely see for the health system that the number of employees who tested positive is really increasing.”

Quest Diagnostics announced Tuesday that its turnaround time is now averaging two to three days, up from a day in late December due to an Omicron-driven spike in test demand. Rival Labcorp said the average turnaround time for PCR test results is still a day or two.

“I think staffing is a limiting factor in all types of laboratories,” said Scott Becker, CEO of the Association of Public Health Laboratories. “It’s not that the Biden administration just does the [Defense Production Act] for the people.”

Another potential bottleneck in the coming weeks is the number of sampling points at which people can be tested – an issue the Biden government is trying to address by expanding the number of sampling points.

“This week, more locations will open in Washington, DC, Philadelphia, Maine, Maryland, Nevada, Delaware, Texas and Washington state to follow,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters on Wednesday.

According to spokeswoman Miranda Gottlieb, the test company Curative had to limit the number of test appointments offered and even temporarily close some of its collection points due to widespread infections among employees.

“Last year we still dosed a few appointments in order to be able to meet the lead times, but we neither had to close a location prematurely nor close a location due to illness of the staff,” said Gottlieb.

Obstacles that previously plagued Covid-19 testing in the pandemic, such as the shortage of pipette tips and reagents needed to expand laboratory-based testing, are now under control, Thierry Bernard, CEO of Qiagen, told POLITICO.

“HHS in the US has scenarios where this could spike to over 2 million PCR tests a day in January – they even say this is between two and four,” said Bernard.

“We can probably swallow the increase in tests that HHS is modeling.”

Mara Aspinall, Rockefeller Foundation advisor and member of the Board of Directors of OraSure Technologies, agreed that the laboratory supply chain has benefited from substantial government investment, but identified laboratory staff are dealing with more than Covid test volume.

“People are going back to the doctor’s office,” said Aspinall. “They have biopsies and mammograms and physical exams and blood tests. So the challenge that laboratories are facing today is that they are running an enormous number of Covid tests. But there are general tests that they didn’t have a year ago when so many doctor’s offices were closed. “

Arvind Kothandaraman, Managing Director of Specialty Diagnostics at PerkinElmer, said turnaround times in laboratories using the company’s instruments and reagents are still around a day, but noted that some saw the positivity rate quintuple while doubling the sample volume record.

“If the test volume follows the positivity rate trend, we can run into problems across the board,” said Kothandaraman. “Not knowing when Covid will go away just makes it harder for them to hire and retain staff. That was the biggest challenge. “

High rates of positivity pose a particular challenge to screening programs in schools and workplaces that use pooling strategies – in which samples are tested from multiple people at the same time. If a pool tests positive, individual samples must be evaluated. And too many positive pools increase the demand for tests and can add to waiting times.

Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association, argued that the US needs to figure out how to best use its testing capabilities as Omicron cases overtake a larger chunk of the country.

“We need to sit down and rationalize the way we use tests and try to figure out how to prioritize them so that we have a rational system so that people don’t test in ways that don’t necessarily affect our productivity and our ability to serve society get involved, ”said Benjamin.

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