(Gecko Studio/Adobe)

High demand across the country has led to slower turnaround times for COVID-19 test kits.

The surge in Austin's COVID-19 cases is overwhelming the health care system trying to fight community spread of the virus.

"We can't get people tested right now," said Dr. James Marroquin, an internal medicine doctor practicing in Austin. "To me, that's a scandal."


In the last week or so, Dr. Marroquin said he and his colleagues have had to ration tests, prioritizing health care workers, the elderly and immunosuppressed patients.

The concern among private doctors comes at the same time that more people are being encouraged to seek them out. With demand high, Austin Public Health is restricting access to its free COVID-19 testing service and encouraging those with health insurance to get tested at their private doctors.

Testing system overwhelmed

Clinical labs across the country are at or nearing capacity, leading to delayed test results.

In a recent statement, American Clinical Laboratory Association President Julie Khani said: "[T]he anticipated demand for COVID-19 testing over the coming weeks will likely exceed members' testing capacities. This significant increase in demand could extend turnaround times for test results."

Quest Diagnostics, one of the country's largest private labs, said that increased demand is driving up turnaround times. Clinical Pathology Labs issued a similar statement Thursday, and CVS Pharmacy tweeted on Friday that patients may experience delays when seeking COVID-19 testing because of high demand.

Tom Banning, CEO of the Texas Academy of Family Physicians, said that larger facilities may not have the same issues with testing as smaller practices. But everyone is struggling with delayed results.

"I would say it's a system issue," Banning said. "We didn't design our lab system to do mass COVID testing."

Many patients recovered before they get results

Widespread testing helps contain spread of the virus when people who test positive self-isolate, and when contact tracing efforts can warn anyone they've been in contact with.

But now, by the time patients receive their test results, they may no longer be contagious or able to prevent spreading the disease to others. "If it's too long of a turnaround, it really loses its value," Dr. Marroquin said.

You may never know you had it

Many COVID-19 cases are asymptomatic, or patients experience minimal symptoms. But current patients having more severe symptoms that match the COVID-19 profile may not be able to be tested in a timely manner.

"To me that's maybe a little more reason to just be extra careful," Dr. Marroquin said, "because if you do get symptoms you might not even be able to know if you have it."

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