COVID-19 test results getting quicker, not quick enough for effective contact tracing say experts

Posted at 9:21 AM, Oct 19, 2020

The good news is Americans are getting COVID-19 test results back, on average, a day faster than they were over the summer. The troubling news, according to experts, is that it is still taking three days on average for Americans to find out their COVID-19 status and this is not quick enough to help with contact tracing and quarantine efforts to slow the spread.

Researchers from several universities, including Harvard, Northeastern, Northwestern and Rutgers universities, have been collecting data and conducting surveys for months since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic.

“Prompt test results constitute the foundation of a successful COVID-19 containment strategy,” researchers state at the beginning of their paper.

Data now shows, of the participants who got a test for the coronavirus in late September, the average wait time was 2.7 days.

In early August, the group announced their survey data showed the average wait time nationwide was 4.1 days. More than 30 percent of participants reported, at the time, they didn’t get test results back until four days or longer.

The percentage of people getting results within 24 hours is also increasing; the September survey showed 37 percent of people getting results back in one day, compared to 23 percent over the summer.

“Rapid turnaround of testing for COVID-19 infection is essential to containing the pandemic. Ideally, test results would be available the same day. Our findings indicate that the United States is not currently performing testing with nearly enough speed,” researcherssaid.

Disparities still exist for Americans who are Black or Hispanic. Although wait times are shorter for these groups as well compared to summer numbers, they are still, on average, a day or more longer than white test takers.

In the latest survey, Black Americans reported waiting an average of 4.4 days for results, and Hispanics reported waiting 4.1 days. By comparison, white and Asian Americans reported wait times of 3.5 and 3.6 days on average, respectively.

Also troubling for trying to control the spread of the coronavirus, the data shows how many of those who tested positive had some sort of conversation about contact tracing.

“Only 56% of respondents who received a positive COVID-19 test say that they were contacted for the purpose of contact tracing,” the survey found.

The survey talked to more than 52,000 people across all 50 states and the District of Columbia.