Frustration grows over long wait times for COVID-19 test results

It's confusing and frustrating. Some people will get their COVID-19 test results in 24 hours, others are waiting for more than two weeks. Even public health officials say more needs to be done. 

For Jean Lombardi, getting results was a process that proved to be extremely slow. She needed them in advance of a medical procedure she was having.

"I had to cancel four appointments and then finally on the 12th day it came back and it was negative," says Lombardi.

This happened at one of several testing sites supported by the state. California is using large-scale labs, which happen to have big backups causing frustration from local public health officials. 

"They're drive-up sites for the most part. And those are supported by those commercial labs, so those turnaround times across the state, they're going to be two weeks or more," says Dr. Marty Fenstersheib of the Santa Clara County Public Health Department.

As it turns out, where you get tested can make a big difference.

In Alameda County, some sites are returning results in under three days. San Francisco is running between one and three days. And Santa Clara County says, using their own labs, they get results in three to four days.

"I would say those turnaround times are critical and the shorter the better," says Fenstersheib.

Doctors recommend you ask a testing site's turnaround time in advance, though not everyone has the luxury of being able to shop around.

"Certainly what is available in terms of testing turnaround time, is different if you have the money. If you can pay for it, you can get a rapid test within 30 minutes," says medical expert, Dr. Larry Burchett.

Jean Lombardi wishes she had done things differently. She says such a long wait made her results practically useless.

"They used to say they wanted you to be tested so that they could trace it better, but 12 days tells no one anything," said Lombardi.

Public health officials said now is the time to be creative on a national level: perhaps contracting with other private labs that might be less busy.