Chicago Sun-Times - - BUSINESS -

WASH­ING­TON — Lab­o­ra­to­ries across the U.S. are buck­ling un­der a surge of coro­n­avirus tests, cre­at­ing long pro­cess­ing de­lays that ex­perts say are ac­tu­ally un­der­cut­ting the pan­demic re­sponse.

With the U.S. tally of in­fec­tions at 3.9 mil­lion Wed­nes­day and new cases surg­ing, the bot­tle­necks are cre­at­ing prob­lems for work­ers kept off the job while await­ing re­sults, nurs­ing homes strug­gling to keep the virus out and for the labs them­selves, deal­ing with a crush­ing work­load.

Some labs are tak­ing weeks to re­turn COVID-19 re­sults, ex­ac­er­bat­ing fears that asymp­to­matic peo­ple could be spread­ing the virus if they don’t iso­late while they wait.

“There’s been this ob­ses­sion with, ‘How many tests are we do­ing per day?’ ” said Dr. Tom Frieden, for­mer di­rec­tor of the Cen­ters for Disease Con­trol and Preven­tion. “The ques­tion is how many tests are be­ing done with re­sults com­ing back within a day, where the in­di­vid­ual tested is promptly iso­lated and their con­tacts are promptly warned.”

Frieden and other pub­lic health ex­perts have called on states to pub­licly re­port test­ing turn­around times, call­ing it an es­sen­tial met­ric to mea­sure progress against the virus.

The test­ing lags in the U.S. come as the num­ber of peo­ple con­firmed to be in­fected glob­ally passed a staggering 15 mil­lion on Wed­nes­day, ac­cord­ing to data com­piled by Johns Hop­kins Univer­sity. The U.S. leads the world in cases as well as deaths, which stand at more than 142,000 na­tion­wide.

Guide­lines is­sued by the CDC rec­om­mend that states lift­ing virus re­stric­tions have test­ing turn­around time un­der four days. The agency re­cently is­sued new rec­om­men­da­tions against retest­ing most COVID-19 pa­tients to con­firm they’ve re­cov­ered.

“It’s clog­ging up the sys­tem,” Adm. Brett Giroir, as­sis­tant health sec­re­tary, told re­porters last week.

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