Despite a near-doubling of the usual number of people seeking COVID-19 tests, the Columbia lab processing those tests continues to give quick results as many in other locations are waiting up to two weeks.
Boone County has seen record numbers of new infections and hospitalizations, while not overwhelming, are growing. The county recorded its third death from COVID-19 as the number of inpatients grew to 27 from 22 on Sunday.
The person who died was a Boone County resident in between 45 to 49 years old, according to a Columbia city news release. No other information was given due to medical privacy laws.
University of Missouri Health Care on Monday opened a second location for drive-thru testing at Mizzou North after demand for testing surged last week. According to a news release, the hospital system averaged 300 drive-thru tests per day the week of June 29. Last week, it performed an average of 650 per day.
Boone Hospital Center also saw double its usual patients at its drive-thru testing location at the beginning of last week.
Almost 5 percent of the patients tested by MU Health Care last week were positive and another 36 positives had been identified by Monday afternoon. Boone Hospital doesn’t report its numbers separately.
Boone County reported 266 new COVID-19 infections last week, equal to the number reported from the first case on March 16 though June 20. As of Sunday afternoon, there were 758 cumulative cases in Boone County, with 327 active infections and there are 554 people currently in quarantine after coming into contact with the virus.
The press release issued Monday about the latest death urges contacts of cases to remain in quarantine for the full 14 days even if they receive a negative test result.
"This is because COVID-19 has a 14-day incubation period, so it may take up to two weeks before the person exposed to the virus becomes infectious," the press release said.
Statewide, testing has ramped up to about 9,000 per day and the positive rate is about 5.7 percent. The Kansas City Star reported Sunday that some people in the western part of the state are waiting up to two weeks for results.
MU Health Care and Boone Hospital Center both send their drive-thru testing samples to PTC Laboratories, also called GeneTraits, in Columbia.
"We have in general noticed a recent uptick in the community demands for testing and we have been able to meet those needs," Laboratory Spokesperson Tim McCarty said. "We’re not maxed out in our capacity at this point, but we are seeing an upward trend."
McCarty said the lab also handles testing for much of the central Missouri area. He said results are often sent to local providers within 24 hours of receiving a sample.
Although there is a noticeable increase in demand McCarty said he doesn’t anticipate reaching capacity in the near future. Additionally, he said the lab was in a "comfortable spot" in terms of equipment and testing materials.
Wally Pfeffer wasn’t exposed to the virus, but was among those tested at Boone Hospital last week. Pfeffer said he wanted to be sure he wasn’t an asymptomatic carrier before seeing his elderly mother.
Boone Hospital Center and MU Health Care are still encouraging patients to get a doctor’s order before coming to a drive thru for a test. Pfeffer was able to get one easily from his doctor and arrived at Boone’s testing site at about 9 a.m. Friday. He had his test taken within 10 minutes.
"It didn’t take any time and it was a lot less painful than it looks like on TV," Pfeffer said.
Pfeffer received his negative test results within 24 hours to his patient profile on Boone Hospital Center’s website.
"I would say people who can or should be tested need to do it," he said.
Topher Otake wasn’t so lucky. Otake was exposed to the virus during a Columbia Public Schools planning session two weeks ago. Although he was able to get a doctor’s order for a test from NexCare Urgent Care Wednesday morning, it took about an hour and a half.
He spent another hour and a half waiting in line at MU Health Care’s softball field drive thru before receiving his test the same afternoon. His test results were delivered to his MU student email within three days.
"I was in a group of six teachers, three of us ended up being positive and three of us were negative," he said. "The other (positive) people found out the day after."
The delay in Otake’s results likely reflect a change to MU Health Care’s notification system, which went into effect last week. If a test is positive, patients are still receiving phone calls within 24 and 48 hours. However, due to the testing volumes, those whose tests are negative will be notified via MU Health Care’s online patient portal within 72 hours.
Although there is a noticeable increase in demand, McCarty said he doesn’t anticipate reaching capacity in the near future. Additionally, he said the lab was in a "comfortable spot" in terms of equipment and testing materials.
MU Health Care spokeswoman Jesslyn Chew said the hospital system has an adequate amount of supplies. However, the facility is monitoring the situation.
"We are having some supply challenges with the materials used to test the specimens due to manufacturing and distribution disruptions nationally," she said. "We continue to closely monitor our inventory and use while working with supply chain experts."
Although locally the time between testing and receiving results remains stable, that’s not the case of other areas of Missouri. According to a report from the Kansas City Star, Kansas City residents are seeing wait times of between a week and 10 days.
When it comes to testing, quick turnaround times for results are important in helping health department officials identify others who may have been exposed to the virus as well as monitor the overall spread of the illness. But quick turnaround times also benefit patients.
In Otake’s case, he received a call from the Columbia/Boone County Public Health and Human Services Department July 6 after someone in his training group began showing symptoms three days before. He was told to get tested on either Wednesday or Thursday of the same week.
"Which I was really stressed out about," he said.
Otake is moving from Moberly to Columbia next week when his lease ends. Although he’ll still have to finish his 14-day quarantine, a positive result would have meant that he would be unable to move, yet unable to stay in his current apartment. Luckily, Otake’s quarantine will finish in time for his move.
McCarty said there are many variables that could lead to a delay in testing results. Staffing, testing volumes and how many accounts a laboratory is managing simultaneously could all impact a lab’s ability to turn around results.
Yet, he said PTC Laboratories is equipped to handle the recent uptick and doesn’t anticipate delays in the future.
"We’re pretty dynamic and flexible and with that we have been changing our workflow," he said. "Our capacity ceiling keeps increasing in response to the demand. If we get any closer, we will make a change to accommodate."