UPDATE, 1:10 p.m.: An Optum spokesperson told the Outpost via email that the testing site in Eureka is fully booked through next week. The facility schedules 144 tests per day, he said.
Regarding the increasingly long turnaround times for testing results, he directed us to a statement issued Monday by Quest Diagnostics, the company operating the labs where tests get sent. Here’s that statement:
Demand for COVID-19 molecular diagnostic testing continues to surge, causing further delays in turnaround times
Quest Diagnostics has performed and reported results of approximately 6.6 million COVID-19 molecular diagnostic tests and approximately 2.4 million COVID-19 antibody tests.
In our media statement posted June 29, we communicated that unprecedented demand for our COVID-19 molecular diagnostic testing services had extended average turnaround times* for reporting test results to 1 day for priority 1 patients** and 3-5 days for all other populations.
Since June 29, demand has continued to rise nationwide, particularly in the South, Southwest and West regions of the country, outpacing our capacity. As a result, the average turnaround time for reporting test results is now 1 day for priority 1 patients and 4-6 days for all other populations. [Note: Locals have reported waiting for a week or longer.]
We are doing everything we can to bring more COVID-19 testing to patients in the United States at this critical time. This week, we intend to ramp up our capacity to reach 120,000 molecular diagnostic tests a day, compared to 115,000 last week. Over the month of July, we will continue to ramp up our capacity to reach 150,000 molecular diagnostic tests a day.
*Turnaround time for molecular diagnostic and antibody testing includes the time to transport a specimen to a Quest Diagnostics laboratory after collecting it at a patient service center or provider site to reporting results. Turnaround time can fluctuate with demand and vary by region.
**Priority 1 patients include hospital patients, pre-operative patients in acute care settings and symptomatic healthcare workers.
With Humboldt County in the midst of its largest surge in confirmed COVID-19 infections since March, the community’s main site for surveillance testing has gone offline.
The coronavirus testing facility at Redwood Acres Fairgrounds, operated by the private firm OptumServe, is currently not accepting reservations online or via phone. The Outpost began seeing comments on social media about this state of affairs yesterday and confirmed the unavailability of appointments this morning by trying to make one via the company’s website.
After jumping through all the reservation hoops, including entering loads of personal information, the website gives this message:
There have been signs over the past couple of weeks that OptumServe is struggling to keep up with the volume of testing being done across its service area, which includes 80 locations in California alone.
As Humboldt County Health Officer Dr. Teresa Frankovich explained during Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors meeting, the specimens collected at Redwood Acres get sent to a national lab, which has been experiencing periodic supply shortages, so the results are taking as long as a week or more to come back.
While other testing sites exist locally, including St. Joseph Hospital, an Open Door clinic in Eureka and the public health lab operated by county’s Department of Health and Human Services, the OptumServe site has been considered an essential resource for surveillance testing, measuring, to some extent, the amount of COVID-19 infection circulating in the larger community, particularly among frontline health care workers.
This halt in services couldn’t come at a worse time. Humboldt County has confirmed 41 of its 154 cases over the past two weeks, and Frankovich said yesterday that public health staff is currently monitoring more than 100 people who’ve been ordered to self-quarantine for 14 days due to exposure to known cases.
And this local spike is occurring in tandem with a nationwide viral explosion. On Tuesday the U.S. reported more than 60,000 new cases, the largest singe-day spike to date.
The Outpost has reached out to OptumServe for an explanation, and we’ve asked the county’s public health team about the implications of this testing logjam. Check back later today for more information.