More than 63 percent of U.S. residents are waiting longer than one to two days to get their coronavirus test results—delays that undermine the contact tracing that could identify individuals who are contagious but show no symptoms, according to results of a new survey by researchers from Northeastern, Harvard, Northwestern, and Rutgers universities.
Overall, the average wait was four days, but in some cases grew to as long as ten days or more for about 10 percent of respondents in a study. The discovery is significant in that health authorities consider rapid turnarounds essential to containing the COVID-19 pandemic, which has so far resulted in the deaths of more than 150,000 in the United States.
Even more worrisome is that wait times do not seem to be diminishing across the country. “Given the timing of how quickly and how long someone is infectious, speed in producing reliable enough results is of the essence for COVID-19,” researchers wrote. A delay of even a day is critical given that the peak of contagiousness lasts about one week. In that time, scores more could be infected with SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes COVID-19, if they come in contact with someone who may seem healthy, making a positive test virtually useless.
“This is definitely a case of closing the barn doors after the horses have escaped,” says David Lazer, university distinguished professor of political science and computer and information sciences at Northeastern, and one of the researchers who conducted the study.