“Why can’t I get tested for COVID-19?” It’s a question I’ve heard over and over again from people. And why does it take so long for those test results to get back?
Private labs are taking up to 14 days to process results. Two weeks seems like a darn long time to wait to find out whether you’ve got a virus that has been called twice as contagious and ten times deadlier than the flu. Last week, Ohio Governor Mike DeWine and Ohio Department of Health Director Dr. Amy Acton ordered Ohio hospitals that can’t do onsite testing to send their samples to hospitals in Ohio that could or the health department. They said these hospitals had the capacity to do more tests and could have them back within hours not weeks. So problem solved? Not at all.
Testing Order Hasn’t Helped Here
At Tuesday’s Scioto County Commissioners’ Meeting, Commissioner Bryan Davis asked Belinda Leslie from the Portsmouth City Health Department if the new testing procedure was helping. She replied, “Not really for us. We can’t get into the sites.” She went on to say that private labs are speeding up delivery of the test results.
I was curious as to why local hospitals are unable to send tests to these labs when the state’s top health official orders hospitals to use them. I contacted Ms. Leslie at the Portsmouth City Health Department. She told me to contact Dr. David Byers, head of Infectious Disease at SOMC.
Looking For Testing Answers
I called Dr. Byers office and spoke to his office administrator. She referred me to Community Relations at SOMC. I called and left a message. I also contacted the office of Dr. Amy Acton.
I asked why testing might not be available to hospitals in our area. Here’s what they had to say.
“If Ohio hospitals are no longer able to take samples from other hospitals and the hospital can show documentation that they did reach out, then they can still send to a private lab.”
You’ll notice it doesn’t explain why the hospitals can’t take samples. Especially since both the Governor and Dr. Acton said these facilities had capacity.
The next day I received a call from Bridget Scott, Administrative Director of the Laboratory at SOMC. She wasn’t able to speak as to why these hospitals with onsite labs can’t test samples from our area. But she was able to tell me some interesting things about our capabilities here.
SOMC has three testing platforms that could process samples same day. But there’s a hitch in using them that I’ll get back to in a moment.
She gave me the names of the three facilities in Ohio that do onsite testing:
- Cleveland Clinic
- Metro Health Cleveland
- University Hospital in Cleveland.
- Ohio State University
I went looking for information on their web pages about testing. And found this interesting quote on the Cleveland Clinic’s Laboratory website:
Please be aware that COVID-19 testing is being sent-out to a partnered reference laboratory because of current volumes. Cleveland Clinic Laboratories plans to make in-house testing available for clients over the coming weeks, which will be determined by internal testing capacity. This information will be communicated when available.
So, even though they have the capability to test, they’re sending tests elsewhere. What gives?
The problem, according to Bridget Scott, “It’s not as easy as it’s sound.” Testing for COVID-19 requires specific testing supplies. “There are still limited testing supplies and they prioritizing to areas with high numbers.”
And while you wonder why they can’t just find more swabs and tubes, these items aren’t the problem.
The missing ingredient is what’s known as reagent. Reagents are substances used to process tests. The mixture into which your sample goes. There is a worldwide shortage of reagents needed to process COVID-19 tests.
It makes sense. Nobody knew two months ago that millions of test would be required. So even if you have the machines and the personnel to run thousands of tests, without reagent, you can’t do anything. And before you ask, most of the manufacturing is done overseas.
Dr. Amy Acton spoke about reagent at Wednesday’s COVID-19 update. Like Scott, she says it’s not as easy as it sound, “Reagents are a complex brew of chemicals. Some are biological in nature. Some are chemical. They are not things that I can mix up in a lab. This is going to be a long haul.”
Assume Everyone Has It
Without the necessary chemicals to complete tests, what should you do? Assume you have it. Assume everyone has it. Stay home. If you begin to show severe symptoms like difficulty breathing, call your doctor or emergency room and let them know what’s going on.