Local COVID-19 test result wait time explained

Published: Jul. 28, 2020 at 7:00 PM CDT
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Drive-up testing sites for COVID-19 continue to pop up across the country, but once the swab is collected there are steps left in the process to determine the result.

Since drive-up COVID-19 testing started in mid-March, health systems have increased ability.

Now anyone with a symptom is eligible for the swab as testing kits and PPE are at an adequate amount.

Gundersen Health System in La Crosse currently tests anywhere from 500-1,000 patients each day— 50 percent at drive-up testing facilities and the other half hospital patients.

All tests are then put into a tier system to determine the importance of a speedy result.

“High priority gets done at the main campus where turnaround time is going to be very rapid-- anywhere from a few hours to a day or two,” said Megan Meller, a Gundersen infection preventionist.

High priority includes those with close interaction with others like healthcare workers and nursing home residents.

The second tier is for patients with mild symptoms or those having elective hospital procedures in a few days.

Once a test is administered, they’re sent to a lab and the waiting game begins.

“Our average wait time is about 5 days which is pretty consistent across the country,” Meller explained. “We tell patients 5-7 days, this varies though week-to-week.”

Those wait times increased to up to 14 days over the July 4th weekend.

The La Crosse County Health Department says it understands the frustration over the delay in results.

“The testing time taking 4-5 days is not where any of us want to see that,” said Jen Rombalski, the La Crosse County Health Department director. “We want to see it as quick as possible because it’s difficult if you have to be in quarantine waiting for your test results and I think that can increase the inability for us to have compliance with individuals actually staying home.”

Health officials do remind those who are experiencing any symptoms to quarantine, as a false negative can occur.

Gundersen says, as of now, there’s no way to get results faster. Meller is hopeful advances like a point-of-care test can become a faster option in the near future.

“Ideally we would have a point-of-care test,” Meller added. “I think that would solve a lot of our concerns, solve a lot of concerns across the country if not the entire world [by having] something available at our hands to know right off the bat--do you have COVID-19? Yes or no.”

Copyright 2020 WEAU. All rights reserved.

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