Why does coronavirus testing take so long now? Doctor offers reasons for lag

As California sees a surge in coronavirus cases, the wait for test appointments and results has become maddeningly long. A SoCal doctor explains why.
LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- Why does it take so long to get tested for coronavirus - and even longer to get test results back?

In recent weeks, as cases of COVID-19 have resurged in Los Angeles County and throughout California, getting a timely test - especially by those who are asymptomatic but concerned about possible exposure - has been a difficult challenge.

Dr. Anthony Cardillo, an ER specialist and CEO of Mend Urgent Care, spoke to Eyewitness News about his own frustrations with the testing system and why the backlog is happening.

"In my practice, we have a lot of frustrated patients, very angry," he said.

Doctors at his practice bear the brunt of the patient complaints because they are the ones interacting with patients - unfairly so because they aren't the ones running the testing, he said.

"My only analogy is it's trying to yell at a pilot in a grounded airplane during a thunderstorm," he said. "It's the wrong person to be yelling at."

In the early months of the pandemic, April through June, testing was more efficient in the Los Angeles area. But in July, he said, both state and local authorities passed new requirements and prioritization. The county started requiring tests for every symptomatic patient. And now, every nursing home resident has to be tested on a weekly basis.

The top priority goes to patients who are showing symptoms of COVID-19, hospitalized patients, doctors and nursing home patients. After that, he said, priority goes to front-line workers who interact with the public, such as grocery store employees.

Lowest priority goes to people who are not showing symptoms. That group, he said, can wait 15 days or longer to get back results after being tested.

Some health officials have said that an asymptomatic person waiting that long for results pretty much negates the value of their testing. And many people are skipping their testing.

One of the ways some labs are responding is by doing pooled testing. This means the lab can test, say four, samples at one time. If the result is negative, all four patients are negative. If the result is positive, then each has to be tested individually to determine which one is positive.

Another concern, Cardillo said, is the possibility of false results. In particular, the rapid testing set up at some sites can have a high rate of false negatives. So even with a negative result, you may want to consult with your doctor or get tested again.
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