Report: Nearly 40% of all COVID test results take so long that they're 'close to useless'

Waiting too long for test results misses the window for contact tracing.

Updated: August 15, 2020 - 8:07pm

The Facts Inside Our Reporter’s Notebook

Widespread delays in COVID-19 test results have made nearly 40% of all such tests epidemiologically pointless, according to expert opinion and a review on test turnaround times throughout the country. 

"[A]lmost 40% of Americans had to wait more than three days for their [coronavirus test] results," CNBC reported on Saturday, announcing the results of a national survey run in partnership with the data firm Dynata. 

That's in spite of the fact that many health experts consider a quick test turnaround to be critical for the purposes of contact tracing, a practice in which public health agents track down any contacts a COVID-positive individual may have had during the infectious stage of the disease. 

Harvard global health professor Ashish Jha told CNBC that "if tests take more than 48 hours, you’ve lost the window for contact tracing" and that "basically, beyond 72 hours, the test is close to useless.”

Over 60% of respondents to the network's survey received their results back within three days, yet around 38% stated that it took four days or longer to get their own results. 

One woman who experienced COVID-like symptoms was tested for the disease but didn't receive results until over three weeks later, after which she felt better. The test result in her case was negative.

“The whole purpose is to find out if I have it before it’s over,” she told CNBC. “So that just completely defeated the purpose.” 

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