This Is How Long It'll Take to Get Your COVID Test Results, Top Lab Says

This major test provider has warned that its average wait time has increased significantly.

Early in the pandemic, as the U.S. ramped up its coronavirus testing capacity, people were only encouraged to get tested if they were experiencing serious symptoms or were a frontline medical worker. Now, testing is more readily available across the country, but the ongoing coronavirus surge has led to huge demand and a lag time in getting results. Results are most useful when they come back quickly, as individuals are able to immediately modify their behavior and get in touch with people they may have exposed. But one major testing company has warned that it is unable to deliver COVID test results within two days or less in the majority of cases. In fact, the wait for results is currently a full week.

In a media statement about COVID testing that was updated on July 27, Quest Diagnostics states that the average turnaround time for "Priority 1" patients is currently two days. For "all other patients," it's seven. The company defines "Priority 1" patients as "hospital patients, pre-operative patients in acute care settings, and symptomatic healthcare workers."

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Quest explains that "persistent high demand has strained … testing capacity," which has affected turnaround times substantially. It also acknowledges that there are issues in obtaining necessary supplies in a timely manner, as the pandemic has strained their equipment vendors as well. The company claims to be working towards getting those turnaround back down to what they consider to be standard: one day for priority patients and three days for everyone else. By next week, the release says, they expect to increase their tests-per-day from 135,000 to 150,000.

Nurse with COVID swab

Earlier this month, former head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Tom Frieden, MD, wrote in an essay about the country's handling of the pandemic that COVID test results that come in after 48 hours are "of little value." As someone could contract the disease between being tested and receiving their results, it might present a false sense of security. And the testing lag time means that contact tracers are starting their work on a delay as well. Close contacts of individuals who end up testing positive may not find out that they've been exposed until days or even weeks later, leaving them ample time to spread the virus further.

Testing is still a tool in battling COVID, but Quest notes that "personal responsibility" is also a factor. Especially as lag times persist, everyone—even those who think they've done their duty by being tested—must continue to social distance as much as possible and wear masks in public. And for another way of tracking the the virus, Dogs Can Tell You If You Have COVID as Well as a Test, Study Finds.

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