In response to reports that rising COVID-19 cases in July strained lab capacity and caused a decline in daily tests, U.S. Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Tina Smith (D-MN) wrote letters to several COVID-19 testing labs requesting information on the processing capacity for each.
June and July brought major upticks in COVID-19 cases throughout the United States in the wake of relaxing stay-at-home orders and attempts to reopen the economy. Florida, Texas, Arizona, and California were all especially hard hit in the days that followed. This prompted thousands to seek out tests, a situation that prompted regular news of labs and local officials struggling to keep up and, in some areas, imposing greater testing restrictions or turning patients away.
“Testing allows for the timely detection of COVID-19 cases, which is crucial to combatting the spread of the virus and a key part of ending the ongoing pandemic,” the senators wrote. “It is imperative that tests are not only readily available to anyone who suspects they may have been exposed to the virus, but also that individuals receiving tests are informed of the result quickly. This timely delivery allows individuals who test positive to self-isolate and avoid spreading the disease any further.”
Quest Diagnostics, the Mayo Clinic, Labcorps, BioReference, and ARUP Laboratories all received letters from the pair. In the letters, the senators requested details of the demand each is receiving and the resources needed to keep test results flowing quickly. All were asked to respond by Sept. 9, 2020.
“Delayed test results and the inability to conduct enough tests seriously weakens the country’s efforts to combat the pandemic,” the senators wrote. “Delays in results can obfuscate public health officials’ view of the virus and how it is spreading, hindering their ability to respond effectively and, in turn, prolonging the pandemic. While testing numbers and turnaround times have improved in recent weeks, it is imperative we take steps now to prevent future delays and backlogs.”
Separately, the senators have also noted concerns over the recent Centers for Disease Control decision to change guidance on asymptomatic COVID-19 testing. Reports have indicated that change was passed quietly and prompted an outcry from a variety of medical groups, along with allegations of political intervention. CDC Director Robert Redfield later released a statement amid that outcry.
“Everyone who needs a COVID-19 test can get a test,” Redfield said. “Everyone who wants a test does not necessarily need a test; the key is to engage the needed public health community in the decision with the appropriate follow-up action.”