COVID-19 Supply Crunch Means More Testing Delays

Aug. 13, 2020 — The lack of supplies for doing enough COVID-19 diagnostic testing within a useful turnaround time will likely last and will continue to hamper the nation’s response to the pandemic, public health experts and health care professionals say.

It will also likely begin to delay diagnostic testing for other conditions, they warned. The demand for COVID-19 testing is exploding as schools and businesses try to reopen and as hospitals begin bringing patients back for elective procedures.

Laboratories say that “many molecular tests are being delayed as they simply cannot all be offered while attempting to meet the demands for COVID-19 testing,” according to leaders from several medical groups.

The American Medical Association, the American College of Medical Genetics and Genomics, the American Society for Clinical Pathology, the Association for Molecular Pathology, the Association of Pathology Chairs, the College of American Pathologists, and the Infectious Diseases Society of America wrote a letter to U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar to express their concerns.

“We are increasingly concerned about the serious strains being placed on testing services for COVID-19, the impact those strains have on our ability to provide timely medical care to our patients, and ultimately on our ability to contain the spread of this dangerous virus,” they wrote.

The groups said laboratories have continued to struggle to maintain a consistent supply of reagents, viral transport media, plastics (such as pipette tips), and other items essential for both COVID-19 and non-COVID-19 testing. Many testing platforms also depend on proprietary supplies, which cannot be manufactured fast enough.

The groups say “it has been made clear that, despite the best efforts of many, no additional manufacturing capacity for many testing supplies is likely to be available through the remainder of this year.”

That alarm was echoed by state health officials.

“There’s going to be continued issues with supply chain,” Eric Blank, DrPH, chief program officer of the Association of Public Health Laboratories, said on a call with reporters.

Although the current situation is not as bad as it was in March or April, the lack of supplies needed for testing “is something we’re going to be faced with throughout this response because this response is going to go on for some time,” said Blank.

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