COVID-19 testing again falls short with long turnaround times posing threat to contact tracing

Many people are wondering why it take so long to get the results of their coronavirus test. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines recommend that as states lift virus restrictions, they should have a coronavirus test turnaround time of two days or less.

An Associated Press survey found California's average turnaround time, from the initial test to reporting results back to the patients, was 48 to 72 hours, depending on the lab. 

"Any time over 2 days seems to be outrageous to me. Turnaround times in the Bay Area alone are hit and miss," said Deborah Burger, RN of National Nurses United.

Depending on the lab, results can come back within just a few short hours to quite a few long days. In many cases, the lab may not have the capacity, personnel, or materials necessary.  

“There's isn't a central reporting place or a central controller that can actually prioritize," said Burger.

One Contra Costa couple says it takes three days to get the appointment plus 8 more days to get the results. 

Will Humble is director of the Arizona Public Health Association, a former Arizona state health director and a graduate of UC Berkeley's School of Public Health.

"You don't get those results back for a week or so, there's a good chance you're going to go out into the community, infect your roommates, your family, your co-workers. 

"It poses a risk, not only to the personnel providing the nursing care to patients, but it also exposes our community, our family," said Burger. 

Another issue also looms. "Fast turnaround times are essential for contact tracing," said Humble.

With recent coronavirus surges, demand for testing has never been higher. "We've got this increase in testing that's happening, but not a commensurate increase in laboratory ability to turn that around," said Humble.

Many health experts now say that until rapid tests are widely available, under the best circumstances and in most cases, it will take up to 48 hours to report the results. Rapid antigen tests are much faster, but not as accurate.