Lack of kits, laboratory backlog explain lack of coronavirus tests

It can take anywhere from a few days up to a couple weeks to receive a coronavirus test result. In that time a lot can change.

With so much uncertainty surrounding us, many want to know — do I have the coronavirus? But the limited supply of test kits means that not everyone who wants a test can get a test for COVID-19.

“We are used to getting access to what we need from a health care perspective, and in this case it just simply is not possible for us to test everyone who is out there,” said James M. Frazier, M.D., vice president, medical affairs and quality, Norton Healthcare.

An insufficient supply of test kits and not enough labs to process the ones that are administered explain the situation.

“Access to even our national labs is running behind and backlogged because of the demand,” said Dr. Frazier. “What you are seeing is everyone looking for the same test at the same time across the globe.”

It can take anywhere from a few days up to a couple weeks to receive a test result. In that time a lot can change. Even those who didn’t have the coronavirus when they were tested could have picked it up by the time the test results come back.

“Particularly if it’s going to take six to 10 or 14 days to get your result back — by that time, even a negative test doesn’t mean a whole lot,” Dr. Frazier said.

Current coronavirus tests are  known to produce false-negative results.

“Even if we tested people that we knew had it, there is still a good chance that two or three of those patients would test negative, even though we knew they had the disease,” Dr. Frazier said. “I think there’s also some false sense of security that if I know it is negative, then I am truly negative.

“The reality is that this test is not as sensitive as some of our other tests that we rely on — for example, HIV testing or strep throat or even influenza, where you are seeing 90%, 95% and 99%  sensitivity.”

Current coronavirus testing sensitivity is more within the 70% to 80% range.

“We are only looking for the virus in the back of the nose and the back of the throat — and it very well may be that the virus is not there by the time we are testing,” Dr. Frazier said, adding that the virus tends to travel from the upper respiratory system down into the lungs.

Some people with the coronavirus never develop symptoms, but they still can spread it to others who may develop COVID-19. Given the lack of testing, the best course of action is for everyone to assume they have the coronavirus, self-isolate and continue to practice good hand hygiene, according to Dr. Frazier.

If you think you have COVID-19 and are not experiencing life-threatening symptoms or difficulty breathing — stay home. Doctors would likely send you home, anyway. Don’t risk further spreading the virus.

If you decide to seek medical care for suspected coronavirus/COVID-19, please use Norton eCare for a virtual visit with a Norton Healthcare provider from your mobile phone or computer. Sign in to MyNortonChart to get started. If you don’t have a MyNortonChart account, sign up at Norton eCare providers will screen you and determine the next steps in your treatment, much like an office visit.

If Norton eCare is not an option for you, be sure to call ahead before you go to a doctor’s office, Norton Immediate Care Center, Norton Prompt Care at Walgreens location or emergency room. Tell them about your symptoms and they will help direct you to the appropriate level of care.

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