Test results slowed down as more testing becomes available in Minnesota

It’s been more than five months since Minnesota’s first case of COVID-19. Since then, health officials have confirmed more than 62,000 cases and more than 1.1 million tests have been given statewide.

While testing was a struggle in the beginning, over the last week, on average, more than 13,000 tests are given each day.

While that number is growing in at least some clinics, so has the time it takes to get results.

"There is a delay due to the sheer volume of testing," said Heather Dawson, Allina Heath Laboratory Services vice president. "And we watch supplies very carefully. I would say on a national level, everyone is watching carefully and is concerned as we roll into ‘respiratory season,’ or the ‘flu season.’ A lot of the supplies overlap."

Dawson says right now they still have enough COVID-19 testing supplies.

"Not like in March when everyone was running out of things; no, there hasn’t been anything like that this summer at all," said Dawson.

Now the concern for some is over how long it takes to get results.

"I’ve heard from folks in Minnesota they’re waiting in some cases for two weeks to get their tests back," said Sen. Tina Smith.

Smith and other lawmakers want a stronger federal response when it comes to testing.

COVID-19 coverage

But some health care providers are putting barriers in place to prioritize testing for some over others.

In many cases to request a COVID-19 test, a patient has to go online and fill out a questionnaire. And even if the patient answers "yes" to most of the questions, at HealthPartners, the patient has to also make an appointment with a doctor for a video screening in order to get tested.

HealthPartners is limiting testing, saying in a statement, "Due to nationwide testing supply shortages, our Central Lab has been forced to cut testing capacity for non-hospitalized patients with respiratory illness. As a result, we are sending about 30 percent of our tests to outside labs for processing. Our patients are currently seeing an average turnaround time of two-to-three days. The testing method for our hospitalized patients is not affected by the national supply shortages."

Meanwhile, Allina Health says their tests are processed by Mayo Clinic and a company called "Lab Corp."

But because of the high number of samples, Allina Health says they’re not getting results for between five-to-seven days.

Dr. Bobbi Pritt, chair of clinical microbiology at Mayo Clinic says, "The current average COVID-19 test turnaround time at Mayo Clinic Laboratories is less than 24 hours from receipt. There have been situations where the specimen is delayed while en route."

A company spokesperson for Lab Corp released a statement:

"LabCorp has performed over 10 million molecular tests since first making our COVID-19 test available in March, and we are able to process 180,000 tests per day with plans to increase capacity further. Our average time to deliver results is 1-3 days from specimen pickup. At this time, based on Department of Health and Human Services guidance, we are prioritizing testing for residents and staff from nursing homes in "hot spot" states in addition to hospitalized patients. All other testing for patients are performed in the order in which they are received."

"Primarily, if you’re symptomatic while you’re waiting for test results, you should be home regardless caring for yourself, and to keep things from spreading," said Dawson.