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State health dept. apologizes for COVID-19 test result delays, labs respond

Published: Jan. 18, 2022 at 10:14 AM EST|Updated: Jan. 20, 2022 at 4:36 PM EST
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WCSC) - The South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control responded to what it called “issues with multiple COVID-19 testing vendors and reporting facilities for failures to process tests and report results and case counts.”

The issue arose since the omicron-fueled surge of cases began in late December.

DHEC said “the overwhelming majority” of COVID tests ― about 97% ― are processed at large, non-DHEC labs.

“While DHEC’s Public Health Lab, which has a daily capacity of 2,500 samples, is operating at that capacity and currently not experiencing any delays, large private labs such as Premier Medical Laboratory Services have fallen significantly behind due to issues ranging from the sheer volume of samples to COVID-related internal staffing shortages and still have not caught up or met contractually obligated deadlines to do so,” a release states.

Premier Medical Laboratory Services released the following statement after DHEC named them among the labs involved in the backlog:

Premier Medical Laboratory Services has worked with DHEC throughout the pandemic to deliver test results to South Carolinians in a timely manner. The lab has provided millions of test results in 12 to 24 hours to both South Carolina and the nation at large. Since mid December, there was a large influx in testing demands due to the Omicron variant surge. Overnight, the laboratory saw an unprecedented 400% increase on December 17th and that continued to rise to 733% over the subsequent weeks.

Premier immediately took action, employing just under 250 South Carolinians in just two and a half weeks and investing in millions of dollars in automation equipment during that time as well. That equipment installation was delayed by the recent record-breaking snowstorm. With the equipment being installed this week and staff returning to work, Premier is continuing to work diligently to get back to their standard of 24 – 48 hour turnaround time of test results. We plan to return to normal turnaround times within the next week and a half to three weeks with continual improvement during that time.

While there is still a current backlog at Premier, which was further affected by the severe ice storm that hit much of the eastern region early Sunday morning, Premier installed several generators and employed all necessary measures to keep our lab in operation to continue processing results. Staffing has been an issue due to COVID-19 infections and the severe winter storm. We are continuing to add employees while keeping the health and safety of our staff as a priority.

We realize that even one missing test result is unacceptable, but feel it is essential that we provide context as to why these delays are taking place. We apologize for the negative impact that this has caused but want to assure everyone that we are doing everything in our power and working 24/7 to correct the backlog.

Luxor Scientific and Precision Genetics both state they are not experiencing any delays and are processing thousands of tests daily. DHEC states its own Public Health Lab is also not experiencing delays.

Some private testing vendors have fallen so far behind in reporting results, DHEC says, the agency had to take “the unprecedented step” of recommending those waiting for test results finish what would have been their isolation time or return to work if it has been more than five days, the release states.

“DHEC knows the delays being experienced by some South Carolinians are unacceptable and is taking every step to hold the responsible labs and vendors accountable and get results back in a timely fashion,” the release states. “DHEC sincerely apologizes to all those negatively impacted by the substandard performance of select vendors and is working diligently to correct those issues.”

DHEC spokesperson Derrek Asberry says the agency is considering multiple options to address the issue with the testing vendors. There are five regular testing vendors and four emergency vendors contracted to the state of South Carolina.

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