Some experience delays getting COVID-19 test results as demand increases

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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. - The Alabama Department of Public Health announced Wednesday that there are now 386 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the state. 35 of those are in Madison County.

Those numbers are expected to rise as more people are tested, but some people have been waiting several days to get their test results.

More than 1,000 people have been tested for COVID-19 in Madison County alone according to Huntsville Hospital CEO David Spillers.

He says last week, the health system noticed people experiencing test result delays after visiting the newly opened fever and flu clinic due to labs being overwhelmed.

As of Wednesday afternoon, 30 patients in the health system, which has locations across North Alabama, tested positive for COVID-19. Four of those are hospitalized; 2 in Madison and 2 in Huntsville.

But Spillers says there are also 41 hospitalized patients who have been tested and are waiting for results.

"Ten of those are in Madison county, ironically the largest number of those are in Decatur. Our Decatur Morgan facility is holding 16 inpatients right now for testing," Spiller said. He says the other patients are being kept at other Huntsville Hospital locations.

Tuesday Huntsville Hospital Health System tested and sent home 270 patients. 200 of those were in Madison County.

"For the patients, we test we have a process to contact them as soon as the information is available," he said.

But Spillers says due to volume, there have been delays in getting results back. "A little bit of frustration right now because those test results are so long coming back," he stated. 

During a COVID-19 briefing Wednesday, he said as testing has increased, labs have struggled to keep up with demand.

"We're working to try to identify those patients and try to track down their results. The labs last week were overwhelmed with volume," he said.

After a person is tested they are told to self-quarantine. The delays mean people could be sitting at home for days wondering if they have COVID-19.

"I hate to say it but for about 5 days you just need to hold tight. If you haven't gotten test results back in 5 days you need to pick up the phone and call whoever did the testing. Whether it's us or your primary care physician to see if you can find out why that testing may have been delayed," he explained.

Spillers says the health system is currently using two local testing labs. He hopes there aren't delays in the future.

"The mitigating factor there would be as more test kits are available and as that lab continues to do more and more tests and we could run into a situation where their turnaround starts to slow down," he said.

Spillers reminded that Huntsville Hospital is not the only health care provider testing people for COVID-19. He said large commercial labs in the area are also experiencing delays in getting results back to people.

Spillers says Huntsville Hospital has the capability to process the COVID-19 tests, but they haven't been able to get the material they need to process the tests. He says the health system is working with a vender and UAB to get the necessary supplies.

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