Lab survey illustrates testing delays spreading to non-COVID-19 diagnostic areas

coronavirus test tubes
Nearly 30% of labs said they lacked enough viral transport media, used to keep samples viable during shipment to the lab for analysis. (Getty/RossHelen)

Despite widespread increases in the production of COVID-19 test kits this year, about three out of four surveyed U.S. laboratories still report that they do not have enough supplies to meet the pandemic’s demand.

According to data collected by the American Society for Microbiology (ASM) and the Association for Supply Chain Management, about two-thirds of 117 CLIA-certified labs also said they are lacking the supplies necessary for routine bacterial screenings. 

This has resulted in testing delays for more common illnesses, such as strep throat, pneumonia, urinary tract infections and sexually transmitted diseases.

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Supply shortages have rippled through the industry since March, uncovering bottlenecks in almost every aspect of test production—from the chemical reagents needed to run the tests, to the swabs and sterile containers used to collect and transport samples.

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The two associations found that labs are currently running at an average of 41% of their total testing capacity for COVID-19. While 73% of labs reported shortages of commercial testing kits for the novel coronavirus, 32% said they’re also lacking the necessary in vitro diagnostic hardware. About 4% said they were short on control materials.

In addition, nearly 30% said they lacked enough viral transport media, used to keep samples viable during shipment to the lab for analysis. 

However, some supply shortages were less common: only 8% reported needing more nasopharyngeal swabs, and no labs reported shortages of oropharyngeal swabs or saliva collection kits.

With their current supplies on hand, the labs reported that they would be able to continue carrying out routine testing for bacterial diseases for an average of nearly nine days. Mycobacterial tests—such as for tuberculosis—were found to be more scarce, with an average of six days remaining.

RELATED: COVID-19 testing shortages force extreme shifts in strategy by local health officials

The societies’ data collection platform was originally developed with support from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to assist underserved areas in Africa, according to Abe Eshkenazi, CEO of the Association for Supply Chain Management.

“Customized to meet the needs of labs in the United States, the platform provides a near real-time visualization into the capacity, utilization and resources necessary to meet consumer and patient demand for testing," Eshkenazi said.

The ASM plans to continue collecting this shortage data and providing it to state and national health officials, to help coordinate the delivery of reagents and other materials.

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