Test Result Delays Cause Anxiety, Spark Innovation

With some coronavirus test results taking weeks to get, patients wait anxiously while the government gives emergency approval to new, quicker testing equipment.

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One key to fighting the coronavirus is knowing where it is and who has it -- and that means testing.

But the value of testing diminishes over time when it takes weeks to get results.

The problem has been a backlog at the private labs being inundated with test specimens.

Ivette Delgado experienced the problem after she and family members returned in early March to South Florida from three COVID-19 hot spots: France and Spain via one night in New York.

"I had just returned from Europe ... and they started showing symptoms and I started showing symptoms and it progressively got worse that night," she said.

So she, her mother and her mother's husband went to Broward General for testing and were told in writing the results would be back within the week.

When they weren't, she hit the phones.

"That’s when the circus started. It was a back and forth on many different phone calls and many different places and no one knew where to send me really," she recalled.

Eventually she learned the family's tests wound up in an overburdened private lab in California and were among many whose results were delayed.

Waiting was hard.

"They’re distressed," said Dr. Shahnaz Fatteh, an immunologist who also serves as president of the Broward County Medical Association. "They would like to get their test results as quickly as possible."

Fatteh is encouraged by the federal government giving emergency approval this week to a new Abbott Laboratories device that can produce a result in less than 15 minutes.

"I think it’s a game changer," Fatteh said. "It changes the landscape of how we’re going to be able to understand this pandemic."

At least at first on a small scale, as the Abbott device handles only one sample at a time.

But it will be valuable in critical areas.

"We’ve seen across the country physicians being sick, health care providers from EMS, fire rescue being sick. So being able to test them so we know they’re in a negative state when they go out in the workforce is important," she said.

But it won't be much help on a large scale for people like Delgado, who waited almost two weeks to get her results.

"Anxiety is getting to people, because every little thing we think -- this is it!" she said.

But for her and her family, it was not it -- their results came back negative, they learned this week.

As for the Abbott Labs machine, there is a debate within government about whether they should be deployed in rural or other areas that do not yet have widespread outbreak.

Fatteh said she believes they should go to hot spots, such as Broward and Miami-Dade counties, where the need for quick testing remains so great.

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