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Our View: Timelier results for Carroll countians make COVID-19 tests far more relevant | COMMENTARY

As communities everywhere ramped up testing for COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, labs in many places struggled to keep up. Maryland was no exception. With coronavirus cases climbing throughout July, labs in the state were flooded, causing a wait for test results that were as long a 15 days.

Locally, Carroll County Health Department personnel said that some COVID-19 test results over the past month came in over two weeks after the testing date. Health Officer Ed Singer said on July 31 that regional lab facilities have been “overwhelmed with tests from areas where there have been spikes in cases and testing.”

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That type of lag in testing was absolutely unacceptable. It rendered the tests obsolete. Delays “really undercut the value of testing, because you do the testing to find out who’s carrying the virus and then quickly get them isolated so they don’t spread it around,” Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health, said on “Meet the Press” last month.

Indeed. As Singer noted, many of those getting tested are people who don’t necessarily think they have the coronavirus. Maybe they are planning a trip. Maybe they just have one symptom. Maybe they are just curious. At any rate, as they await results, that type of person won’t likely be putting their life on hold, worrying about staying away from others. So that person might be see friends, visit family, go out to a public event or activity and, almost certainly, go to work. And, in doing so, could infect others who, in turn, would have no reason to be worried or change lifestyles.

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“By the time we are able to talk with a positive case, they may be finished with their isolation period, and their contacts will be past their quarantine time, so we are not able to prevent further spread,” Health department spokesperson Maggie Kunz said.

We would hope and expect that sort of behavior would stop the moment any person would receive a positive test. That’s why it is so critical everyone get their results in a few days rather than a few weeks. A week or 10 days that a person with COVID-19 wouldn’t be out in the community at risk of transmitting the virus could literally save lives. The normal quarantine time for those who have tested positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, is two weeks.

For Carroll County, the issue seems to have been resolved. Kunz said Carroll worked with the state to transition to a different lab, which took effect Aug. 4. She declined to disclose the name of either lab but said the department saw an improvement in turnaround time with the first batch of tests that were sent to the new lab.

Singer told the county commissioners in their Aug. 6 meeting that the new lab generally has a 24-to-36-hour turnaround on test results. “That’s going to make a huge difference,” he said, in deciding on a timely basis who’s sick and who needs to quarantine, though he doesn’t necessarily expect every day to have as quick a response as that first day. Kunz said she expects results to be back in “no more than three to five days, and sometimes less.”

Anecdotally, a Times staff member got a COVID-19 test in the process of writing an article the first week of July and didn’t receive results until 15 days later. Last week, another Times staff member got a test and had results two days later.

The health department’s testing site at the Carroll County Agriculture Center averages around 250 tests per week. Carroll Hospital averages double that figure, or more, per week, and a hospital spokesman told us they their lab results are usually returned in three to five days.

We’re glad the new lab is producing faster results for tests administered by the health department and that the hospital has been getting timely results all along. A quick turnaround on tests is a key to getting a handle on this pandemic.

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