The number of people being tested for COVID-19 is limited by national shortages in tests and long waits for results. However, laboratories across the U.S. are quickly ramping up their ability to collect, process, and test for COVID-19. The pace of new development is impressive now that testing has moved beyond the CDC and into public health, reference, hospital, and commercial laboratories. Laboratories are making extraordinary efforts to meet the surge demand for the volume of testing that is needed.
Herculean Efforts and Collaborations Across Industry
Across all 50 states, significant focus is on increasing the ability to rapidly test for COVID-19 in order to get an accurate count of infected patients. From drive-thru and home collection kits to new laboratory interfaces to lab equipment, improvements are in play. Below are a few examples of these efforts:
- According to the CDC, as of March 18, there were 89 public health laboratories that completed verification and are testing—including at least one PHL in every state, plus DC, Guam, and Puerto Rico.
- Both LabCorp and Quest intend to boost testing capabilities to be able to perform more than 20,000 COVID-19 tests per day.
- Mayo Clinic Laboratory is ramping up to manage a significant increase in testing for its clients and eight major health systems.
- Roche Diagnostics is shipping around 400,000 COVID-19 tests weekly now that FDA approval has been received.
- Eli Lilly and the Indiana State Department of Health are partnering to speed up processing of COVID-19 tests.
U.S. Testing Volume Still Lagging on Per Capita Basis
However, even with all this aligned effort, the big problems the U.S. initially encountered with COVID-19 testing leave the U.S. lagging well behind other countries in per capita testing (see Figure 1). U.S. per capita testing is nearly 10 times lower than Canada and greater than 40 times lower than South Korea. This means that the number of people who have tested positive for COVID-19 does not accurately reflect the number of people who have the disease.
In addition, quite a few people require more than one test because of a relatively high number of false negatives. False negative results are attributed to low viral load early in disease, minimal detectable virus in throat/nose, sample collection and/or shipping problems, and technical issues with testing.
Supply Shortages Amplify the Problem
The demand for COVID-19 testing currently exceeds both nationwide testing capacity and available supplies. A global and national shortage of critical supplies is the next hurdle the U.S. faces in its pandemic response. Currently, there are testing supply chain shortages for reagents, swabs, and personal protective equipment, as well as personnel who are qualified for testing.
Adequate Testing Needed to Address COVID-19
Rapid testing allows for a greater understanding of how the disease is spreading that is crucial to develop an appropriate response to the pandemic. As laboratories continue to ramp up testing and more testing becomes available, the U.S. can gain a clearer picture of the appropriate evidence-based responses.
Orchard Can Help with Your LIS System Administration
To offset the burden currently placed on laboratories, Orchard is offering advanced levels of LIS administration and service-level agreements that can help your organization with its lab-related IT technology and security demands and allow laboratory professionals to focus on testing. Orchard has expert resources available that understand laboratory IT (e.g., networks, databases, cloud services, etc.) who can help you maximize LIS availability, speed, and reliability.
In a crisis like the COVID-19 pandemic, we need to avoid panicking and work together to do our part to try to prevent COVID-19 spread to ourselves and throughout our communities. Orchard is committed to assisting laboratories that are involved in collection and testing for COVID-19 by efficiently integrating software tools and providing customer service that promotes timely testing. As always, we intend to keep you informed and be a trusted resource you can turn to for industry-related education. Follow us on Twitter at @OrchardSoftware and feel free to respond to this post by emailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- CDC. Testing in U.S. March 19, 2020. Accessed at: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/cases-updates/testing-in-us.html
- LabCorp. Information from LabCorp about Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19). March 19, 2020. Accessed at: https://www.labcorp.com/information-labcorp-about-coronavirus-disease-2019-covid-19
- Young, C. Quest Lab ready to accelerate Mass. COVID-19 testing. Greenfield Recorder. March 2020. Accessed at: https://www.recorder.com/APPeter-covid-testing-33437891
- COVID 19- Mayo Clinic Increases Testing Capacity | https://krocnews.com/covid-19-mayo-clinic-increases-testing-capacity/?utm_source=tsmclip&utm_medium=referral
- Horton, S. Two Companies In Indiana Work To Increase Public Testing For COVID-19. WBOI. Accessed at: https://www.wboi.org/post/two-companies-indiana-work-increase-public-testing-covid-19#stream/0
- Ortiz-Ospina, E. How many tests for COVID-19 are being performed around the world? Our World in Data. March 18, 2020. Accessed at: https://ourworldindata.org/covid-testing
- Sassoon, AM. National shortages threaten COVID-19 response while scientists try to get needed resources. Florida Today. March 2020. Accessed at: https://www.floridatoday.com/story/news/2020/03/19/covid-19-testing-threatened-missing-reagents-materials/2869966001/