Quest, LabCorp warn of coronavirus testing delays as demand surges amid outbreaks

Outbreaks have surged in the South and West in the United States.

July 1, 2020, 12:09 PM

As COVID-19 test positivity rates resurged in recent weeks, private test providers have made efforts to sound the alarm that the rising demand for testing may outpace their ability to process the new influx without accumulating a backlog.

The development is eerily reminiscent of initial coronavirus testing failures in the U.S. when the pandemic first hit earlier this year.

Despite massive increases in the ability to process COVID-19 tests across the country in recent months, in the last week, two of the top commercial testing labs -- Quest Diagnostics and LabCorp -- both said their testing capacity is under strain amid coronavirus outbreaks that hit predominantly southern and western states hardest.

Traffic is directed at Dodger Stadium as people arrive for COVID-19 testing in Los Angeles, California, on June 30, 2020.
Frederic J. Brown/AFP via Getty Images

In a statement last week, Quest Diagnostics said that while the company had the capacity to perform about 770,000 COVID-19 tests a week, "Despite the rapid expansion of our testing capacity, demand for testing has been growing faster. Orders for our molecular diagnostic services grew by approximately 50% over the past three weeks"

By Monday, Quest's message became more dire, with the company saying in a statement, "Demand for COVID-19 molecular diagnostic testing reaches unprecedented levels, extending turnaround times."

"We have continued to experience surging demand for these services, with recent daily orders outpacing capacity. As a result, while our average turnaround time continues to be 1 day for priority 1 patients, it is now 3-5 days for all other populations," Quest said. Priority 1 patients include hospital patients, pre-operative patients in acute care settings and symptomatic health care workers.

The commercial lab is ramping up its testing capacity with the goal of being able to process 150,000 molecular diagnostic tests a day. This week, Quest expects to ramp up our capacity to reach 115,000 of these tests a day.

"While we have the supplies to meet our current capacity target, we continue to work with our industry partners on platforms, reagent test kits and other supplies to ramp to our target capacity of 150,000 tests a day," the commercial lab added.

Adriana Cardenas, a medical technologist processes test samples for the coronavirus at the AdventHealth Tampa labs on June 25, 2020 in Tampa, Florida.
Octavio Jones/Getty Images

Quest Diagnostics has performed and reported results of approximately 5.75 million COVID-19 molecular diagnostic tests and approximately 2.20 million COVID-19 antibody tests.

As for LabCorp, the other top commercial lab company processing COVID-19 tests, the turnaround for processing tests will be delayed due to increasing demands in the supply chain, the company said in a statement issued over the weekend and updated Tuesday.

"In recent weeks, we have seen a steady increase in demand for molecular testing and we are doing everything we can to continue delivering results in a timely manner while continually increasing testing capacity," LabCorp said in the statement, adding the new update on Tuesday that "with the recent increase in demand, results on average may take 1-2 days longer."

The commercial lab added, "LabCorp also continues developing innovations in COVID-19 testing to increase capacity, eliminate supply constraints, and increase access and convenience for specific markets and populations."

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