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Long delays in COVID-19 test results makes contact tracing 'useless'

Expert says tests results needed within 24-48 hours for effective contact tracing
Long delays in COVID-19 test results makes contact tracing 'useless'
Posted at 10:31 AM, Aug 12, 2020
and last updated 2020-08-12 10:31:31-04

Like millions of Americans, Joanne Palamarchuck had been feeling ill and was concerned she might have contracted COVID-19.

"I had been feeling pretty bad for a week, just very, very run down. My body was telling me that something was wrong," Palamarchuck told Contact 5 in an interview.

She went to get tested at a testing site in Port St. Lucie.

"July 15 at 10:37 a.m.," recalled Palamarchuck, saying she was told to expect results in 24 hours.

The next day?

"I checked. Nothing there," she said.

Days of waiting turned into more than a week.

"I didn't think I'd have it back in 24 hours," Palamarchuck said, "but I didn't think it would take 12 days either."

That's right. Palamarchuck was tested July 15 but didn't get her results until July 27.

She tested negative for COVID-19, but Palamarchuk was not alone in her long wait for test results.

"I took the test and I had to wait eight days to get those test results," state Rep. Emily Slosberg, D-Boca Raton, said in an interview with Contact 5. "That's completely unacceptable."

Frustrated by her wait time, Slosberg, who also tested negative, recently encouraged Palm Beach County to find more local partners to get test results back faster.

Emily Slosberg
"If we could quickly identify who's positive, it makes it easier to stop or slow the spread," state Rep. Emily Slosberg, D-Boca Raton, says.

"If we could quickly identify who's positive, it makes it easier to stop or slow the spread," Slosberg said.

"We could be doing 200,000 tests a day, and that may be adequate, but if you're not getting the results back for almost two weeks, it makes the testing useless," Dr. Terry Adirim said in an interview.

Adirim is a faculty member at Florida Atlantic University's College of Medicine and served as a senior health official for the federal government during the 2009 H1N1 pandemic.

"If the public health departments don't have that testing information, they can't contact trace," noted Adirim, adding, "so, essentially, we're doing nothing right now. It's pointless."

Dr. Alina Alonso, the head of the Florida Department of Health in Palm Beach County, echoed the same concern at last month's county commission meeting. Alonso told commissioners testing commercial labs were taking nine days to get results back to patients.

"That basically makes all the money that we're spending on contact tracing useless," Alonso stated at the meeting.

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"At the end of the day, we just don't have the capacity in this nation for testing," Adirim said.

Adirim blames the delays on the federal response and believes to effectively contact trace COVID-19, test results should take between 24 and 48 hours.

A national survey of 19,000 people found 10% waited 10 days or more for coronavirus test results.

Floridians waited on average four days, according to the study, and Gov. Ron DeSantis has taken notice.

"Obviously, if you're somebody that is symptomatic and you don't get your results back for seven days, that is not helpful," DeSantis said at a news conference last week.

At the same news conference, DeSantis announced two 15-minute testing sites in Miami, capable of 1,250 tests that should produce real-time data.

"That's not only good for the test taker and the patient, it's also good for officials monitoring the trends," DeSantis noted.

Palamarchuck may have tested negative, but she worries how long others will be forced to wait and wonder.

"I don't know if there necessarily needs to be a blame game," Palamarchuck said. "I think we just need to get it fixed."