COVID-19 Test Results Taking a Week or More for Some

Test result lag makes it harder for health officials to trace the spread

NBCUniversal, Inc.

Health experts have made it clear: timely testing is critical to get a handle on COVID-19. But NBC 5 recently asked people about their testing experiences. Fifty people from across North Texas said they'd waited much longer than promised for test results.

When Haley Newton noticed a dry cough, she initially chalked up her symptoms to allergies. Once a fever began to set in, Newton went to a drive-thru testing site for a COVID-19 test and was told to expect results in two to four days.

That was June 19.

By June 29, Newton said she still did not receive her results and remains isolated from her work and her 8-year-old daughter.

“As a mother, I just hope people don’t have to go through this,” Newton said.

Newton is not alone.

“It’s frustrating because I can’t go back to work until I’m cleared that I’m negative,” said Tiffany Lopez.

She told NBC 5 she went to a community-based testing site at the American Airlines Center on June 19 after learning she was in direct contact with a relative who tested positive.

After waiting in her car for more than four hours to get the test, Lopez is still waiting for the results.

“They said three to five days. I was hopeful that it’d be three days, realistically five, but here I am – double that, 10 days later and nothing,” said Lopez.

It’s difficult to assess testing turnaround time for everyone. Some tests go to public, private or commercial labs, but health officials report varying test result windows.

“All these national labs, they’re getting hit from every angle. The state of Texas has seen a huge increase in testing and a huge increase in cases, so the demand is through the roof,” Tarrant County Public Health Director Vinny Taneja said.

Taneja said Tarrant County doesn’t have a federally funded drive-thru lab like the one Lopez visited at the AAC, but said average test results in Tarrant County come back in six days.

Dallas County health officials said private labs, on average, can deliver test results in just over three days. Community-based testing sites are taking seven to nine days.

The lag time in test results can mean the daily reported case numbers are dated, painting an inaccurate picture of current cases.

It also makes it harder for health officials to understand where the disease is spreading, explained Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins when asked about the seven to nine-day result window.

“That is almost useless because we can’t do tracing and people don’t know whether they’re sick until they’ve almost run the course of the disease,” said Jenkins.

NBC 5 reached out to private labs Monday afternoon.

Quest Diagnostics, one of the largest in the nation, shared a statement – saying it’s seeing a surge in demand.

Monday, Newton had her nose swabbed a second time. She said she spent the day looking for a provider that expects to give her COVID-19 test results in a day or two.

“I would just like to have answers,” said Newton.

*Map locations are approximate, central locations for the city and are not meant to indicate where actual infected people live.

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