As New Hotspots Emerge, COVID-19 Testing Demands Will Surpass Capacity Soon

As New Hotspots Emerge, COVID-19 Testing Demands Will Surpass Capacity Soon

Dive Brief:

  • With the spike in coronavirus cases in Southern and Western states, commercial laboratories say they do not have the capacity to keep up with growing demand for their testing services and predict longer turnaround times for results over the coming weeks.
  • The American Clinical Laboratory Association, which represents LabCorp, Quest Diagnostics and other labs, said Saturday its members have seen a steady increase in the volume of COVID-19 test orders recently, specifically calling out the fact that critical testing materials are in short supply.
  • Quest on Thursday issued its own warning that despite the rapid expansion of its testing capacity, demand has been growing faster. In particular, the lab giant noted that orders for molecular diagnostic services have increased by about 50% over the past three weeks.

Dive Insight:

U.S. commercial labs had made “significant strides” during the coronavirus pandemic by expanding testing capacity from about 100,000 tests per day in early April to more than 300,000 currently, according to ACLA.

But newly emerging hotspots like Arizona, California and Texas are putting a strain on labs and an already limited supply of testing materials, the group said.

While labs nationwide are trying to increase capacity by purchasing more testing machines and attempting to secure additional test materials from suppliers, ACLA President Julie Khani cautioned, “the reality of this ongoing global pandemic is that testing supplies are limited” and “every country across the globe is in need of essential testing supplies, like pipettes and reagents, and that demand is likely to increase in the coming months.”

Khani said ACLA has been in talks with the Trump administration and supply chain partners about the challenges labs face as they try to increase their level of respective COVID-19 testing abilities to meet the anticipated increase in U.S. demand for tests over the coming weeks.

In the absence of a solution, Khani warned that significant demand “will likely exceed” labs’ testing capacities and “could extend turnaround times for test results.”

For its part, Quest’s statement on Thursday described the U.S. coronavirus outbreak as an “evolving” situation that is putting a “strain” on the company’s COVID-19 testing resources.

“Today, we have the capacity to perform approximately 110,000 of these tests a day (770,000 a week). Despite the rapid expansion of our testing capacity, demand for testing has been growing faster,” according to Quest.

Currently, Quest’s average turnaround time for test results are one day for hospital patients, pre-operative patients in acute care settings, and symptomatic healthcare workers, and two to three days for all other patient populations. However, the company warned that “given increased demand, we expect average turnaround times near term to extend in excess of 3 days.”

Nonetheless, Quest said it is taking actions to try to increase COVID-19 testing scale, with the goal of being able to perform 150,000 tests per day. Toward that end, the company is installing additional testing platforms in its network of U.S. labs and said it is collaborating with independent labs who currently have underused capacity.

Quest’s rival LabCorp was not immediately available for comment on its testing capacity amid reports of demand increasing across the country.

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