HHS: COVID-19 testing reaching capacity at some labs as states grapple with spikes

A test tube with a blood sample
Assistant Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Brett Giroir, M.D., gave an update on testing capacity for COVID-19 as some states reach record-level cases. (Getty Images/photoguns)

Some laboratories across the country are reaching or near capacity on COVID-19 testing as cases start to rise to record levels in some states.

Assistant Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Brett Giroir, M.D., who is coordinating the federal government’s testing response, told reporters that he can expect test pooling technology to be in place by the end of August. Pooling would test a batch of samples for any presence of COVID-19.

“It is absolutely correct some labs across the country are reaching or near capacity,” Giroir said Wednesday. “In general, this is a good thing because of increasing front end for collection and a bump in referral labs.”

HHS attributed increases to states doing baseline tests of all nursing home residents and staff along with testing in prisons.

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Giroir’s comments come a few days after the American Clinical Laboratory Association (ACLA), which represents major independent labs such as Quest and LabCorp, warned of strain due to a steady volume of COVID-19 tests.

“The significant increase in demand could extend turnaround times for test results,” the ACLA said in a statement Monday.

Giroir said tests for COVID-19 are on average turned around every four days, but 41 states have a turnaround time of under three days. Labs prioritize tests for hospitalized patients, and such tests usually have a turnaround of 24 to 36 hours.

Giroir also gave an update on when pooling technology for testing will be available. Pooling will enable testing of samples in batches and only retest if one of the samples in the batch comes up positive for COVID-19.

The FDA gave an update June 16 on how the agency will validate pooling test technology and how to facilitate an application for emergency use authorization.

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Giroir estimated that pooling could be available by the end of August when students start to return to college campuses.

“We will have a validated method to do that,” he said.

The pooling would be used in areas where there was not a lot of prevalence of the virus.