Dallas County

High Demand for COVID-19 Tests Leads to Limited Lab Supplies

Delays in test results may be due to the limited amount of reagents, the chemical used for test results.

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As the number of new coronavirus cases and hospitalizations in North Texas soar, testing sites across Dallas-Fort Worth are busy as more people get tested.

At community testing sites, some patients have complained that the turnaround time to get results is taking longer than a week.

There are multiple factors that can contribute to lag times, but right now there's a challenge many labs are facing. It has to do with reagents, the chemical needed to determine if a test is positive or negative.

“We found the lack of reagents has been the limiting factor in a lot of our lab space availability in testing we can do," DeSoto Fire Chief Jerry Duffield said. "You can test somebody all day, but if you don’t have the reagent to activate the test, you know it’s worthless, so the reagent is probably the most critical factor we have right now in getting more people tested."

Duffield has helped manage the Ellis Davis Field House testing site which is federally funded.

He said there are plenty of tests out there, but without the reagents, getting the results takes longer.

If you only have an 'X' amount of reagent or you’re only getting a certain amount of reagent in a certain period of time, then the labs simply have to limit how many tests they’re going to activate and limit each day," Duffield said.

In a statement, the American Clinical Laboratory Association said it has seen a steady increase in the volume of COVID-19 test orders and the increased demand could extend turnaround times for test results.

Part of the statement from the ACLA President, Julie Khani, stated:

"All across the country, clinical laboratories are increasing the number of labs processing tests, purchasing additional testing platforms and expanding the number of suppliers to provide critical testing materials. However, the reality of this ongoing global pandemic is that testing supplies are limited. Every country across the globe is in need of essential testing supplies, like pipettes and reagents, and that demand is likely to increase in the coming months. We are in active conversations with the Administration and supply partners about ways to address these challenges."

Parkland Hospital & Health System said there was a challenge with getting reagents.

"We have the capacity to do 1,500 (tests) a day on one machine and a 1,000 on another machine, but the challenge has been getting the reagents," said Vivian Johnson, PharmD, Senior Vice President, Clinical Services, Parkland Health and Hospital System. "So we can test all day, but if the company is not able to deliver the reagents so that we can test them, it doesn’t help us,"

She said they have continued to call companies to ask if they can increase the amount of reagent but are being told the demand is high.

Johnson said on Monday the hospital received a new testing machine which gives them the capacity to run about 3,000 tests a day. She said it came with a large supply of reagents and has a turnaround time of about five hours for test results. Which she said is longer compared to another machine which can process results in two hours.

Given the high demand for reagents across the state and the country, Johnson said they're being proactive and planning ahead.

"What we’ve had to do at Parkland is we’ve had to be ahead of the game, already thinking about the next step," she said. "We started with one large machine that would allow us to do 1,500 tests, now we have actually three machines that are active because we are utilizing reagents from all of those various companies to help us to be able to meet our capacity."

Johnson said Parkland has not experienced a backlog and they have a fourth machine ready to go and if they have any problems.

The city of Dallas and Dallas County entered into agreements with Parkland Health and Hospital System and a private vendor, Honu, to continue drive-thru COVID-19 testing past June. It's only open to residents who live in the city or county.

This replaces the American Airlines Center testing site which closed on Tuesday after federal support ceased.

“We are moving the AAC drive-thru site to the University of Dallas on Wednesday. Dallas County Health and Human Services will supervise a private vendor with a new lab so the turnaround for results should be faster. Faster results give you the chance to make the best decisions for your health and gives our public health experts more timely information to better advise the community,” Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins said in a statement.

Jenkins has been vocal about the need for more reagents.

“Getting the results is really critical to patient care because it allows us to get patients in, identify whether they’re positive or negative and admit them to the appropriate unit to be isolated or not be isolated," Johnson said.

Another reason why healthcare leaders are asking people to wear masks, continue social distancing and practice good hygiene is that someone waiting on test results may be asymptomatic and could possibly be spreading the disease.

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