For the last several weeks our public health response system has been impaired because of the slow turn around times for the diagnostic PCR tests. Much of the public discourse has focused on the shortage of testing that’s available but there’s been less discussion of the poor turn-around times (between 6-8 days and often more).

Slow turn-around times impair the public health response because folks that get tested don’t know their status for several days.  When they don’t know their status- it’s less likely that they’ll make the behavioral changes needed to prevent the spread of the virus (e.g. they’re unlikely to isolate). 

Also, contact tracing effectiveness is nullified because the folks at the county health departments get the case report several days too late. By the time they’re able to do the case investigation the person is likely no longer infectious- and the opportunity to intervene has passed. Contacts may already be symptomatic and in some cases may have even recovered.

Those are reasons why we really need to improve turn-around times.

We got word this week that there is now a goal to improve those turn around times. The ADHS has publicly committed to increasing diagnostic capacity to 35,000 units per day by the end of July. To accomplish that, they’ve earmarked $2M to Sonora Quest to buy instruments/reagents etc.

Hopefully they’ll also be looking at: 1) the specimen courier services; 2) the instruments needed for the analysis; 3) staffing to make it happen; and 4) report out logistics.

We also need a new metric in the ADHS dashboard that tracks  turn-around time. Public metrics are essential to accountability and performance improvement. Without a public metric I’m afraid that this super-important performance measure won’t be a priority for leadership.