California seeing longer wait times for COVID-19 test results

Posted at 5:15 PM, Aug 05, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-07 23:44:54-04

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) — The number of Californians getting tested for COVID-19 is the highest it's been in more than a month. Also up is the positivity rate and number of cases.

Across the state, people are piling into COVID-19 testing locations. In some cases, it's creating long lines.

According to the California Department of Public Health, the number of COVID-19 diagnostic test results in California has reached a total of 74,464,222 since the start of the pandemic, an increase of 133,078 tests from the prior day total.

Dr. Ohmid Bahktar is Medical Director of the Outreach Lab at Sharp Healthcare. He says the results of tests are typically turned around in about a day, maybe two at the most. But that's just for positive or negative results.

For the health agency to know if that positive result is one of the variants it could take a few weeks.

"Sequencing, in general, is a more labor-intensive process and then secondly, the amount of equipment that's out there," said Bahktar.

The turnaround time Dr. Bahktar mentioned for a positive or negative test mirrors what some counties across the state are seeing: 24 hours or less in San Diego, Kern, and San Luis Obispo counties.

Vince Pierucci, incident commander for the County of San Luis Obispo COVID response, said while the delta variant is leading to a surge in cases across the state, not all cases can be sequenced to confirm the variant.

"We do have our own lab that does process results and then we also do work with the state at their state mega lab down in Valencia," Pierucci said. "We would love to be able to do you know 100 percent sequencing, but again, with the increase in case numbers and the increase in interest of testing again, we're just basically having to triage and look at what can be sequenced."

According to California health officials, in June, 14 percent of cases in the state were sequenced. The state is still working on final numbers for July.

In Kern County, health officials say although the numbers may show less delta variant confirmations know it's still out in the community.

"We get tested for COVID-19, it's a positive or negative test, then the specimen actually goes to a different lab and is sequenced. And only about 10 percent of our tests are sequenced statewide," said Brynn Carrigan, Kern County Public Health Director.

Doctors stress, though, that the type of variant a COVID-19 patient may have will not impact the course of care.

"So thankfully the data probably isn't of huge concern on the individual level, obviously from a public health standpoint that information is hugely important and the two week turn around time is probably reasonable for getting a good grasp or at least a glimpse of the picture of what is now here and what potentially could be coming," he said.