Testing continues to be a problem in Arizona. Demand far outstrips the supply of available tests and the time it takes to get samples back from the lab is too slow. Reports from the field suggest that samples sent to the Sonora Quest labs are coming back between 7-14 days after specimen collection.

That kind of turn around time doesn’t provide actionable information to persons that get tested because they don’t know their status in time and they are far less likely to go into isolation if they’re not sure whether or not they really have COVID. 

In addition, the county health departments get the data back from the lab too late to do an effective case investigation and conduct contact tracing. The case may have already recovered and infected their roommates, family members, co-workers and community persons. 

Business owners (especially assisted living and skilled nursing facilities) are also behind the 8-ball because the data on their employees comes back so late that there’s no real actionable information- and they’re unable to make evidence based decisions about who is safe to attend work.

Fortunately the governor and health director have committed to increasing statewide testing capacity to 35,000 tests per day by July 31 (2-weeks).  Great that they set a discrete goal – but I would have loved to see a SMART Goal something like this:

By July 31, Arizona will be testing 35,000 persons per day with 90% of tests returned to the patient within 72 hours. I  addition, I think we really need to have the ADHS dashboard track sample turn-around times. After all, What Gets Measured Gets Done.

Editorial Note: The governor has yet to use public health emergency authority to require assisted living and skilled nursing facilities to routinely test their staff in order to prevent the virus from leaking into these congregate settings. Folks in these facilities continue to be a very large portion of the hospital patient census, and better testing and infection control in these settings could improve available hospital capacity and save lives. 

Last week the FDA has granted emergency use authorization for pooled coronavirus testing for Covid-19. The approach involves combining samples from multiple people, which are only tested individually if the batch comes back positive. Perhaps this approach, along with increased use of antigen testing and requiring routine staff testing in congregate settings can help us out with our hospital capacity issues.

However, none of these things will work if the turn around times for samples continue to be insufficient.