Processing 3,500 virus tests/day target for next week
Since the crisis began, 2,271 patient samples have been tested
STATE OFFICIALS said Thursday that labs expect to have the ability to process 3,500 coronavirus tests a day for Massachusetts residents by early next week.
“We believe over the next several days and weeks, there will be an enormous increase in the amount of testing that takes place on a daily basis here in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts,” Gov. Charlie Baker said. “It can’t happen fast enough.”
Asked about daily capacity today, Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders said she would get back to a reporter. The latest state report indicated 2,271 tests in all have been processed since February, so an increase to 3,500 a day would be substantial. (Update: Late Thursday afternoon, the Baker administration sent out a statement that reiterated the 3,500 goal but did not answer the question about daily capacity today.)
A lack of diagnostic tests for COVID-19 has hampered the nation’s response to the growing pandemic.
As of 7:30 a.m. Wednesday, according to Department of Public Health figures, the state lab had conducted 1,743 tests, and 224 patients tested positive. As of 11:30 a.m. Wednesday, private labs LabCorp and Quest had tested a total of 528 tests, with 23 positive results. Other unspecified commercial labs reported nine positives.
Initially, the US Centers for Disease Control was the only institution able to process tests for COVID-19. On February 28, the Massachusetts state lab received approval to test, and on March 9-10, private labs Quest and LabCorp began testing. Patient swabs are collected by health care providers, then sent to these labs to be processed.
Sudders said by next Tuesday, the Broad Institute in Cambridge plans to begin testing, setting an initial goal of 1,000 tests a day. Some smaller regional labs, such as those affiliated with academic medical centers, are also beginning to process tests. Sudders said her goal is to be able to do “as much testing as possible.”
Sudders said the state will triage the tests, with top priority going to health care workers and first responders, and to people who are critically ill and hospitalized.
Baker, Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito, and Sudders, who is leading the state’s coronavirus response, spoke to the press after touring Quest’s Marlborough lab Thursday morning. CommonWealth first reported that Quest planned to begin processing tests there.
The lab was quiet, because most of the work happens overnight. Doctors and other health care clinicians collect samples from patients during the day, then send them to the lab, which is busiest between 11 p.m. and early morning. Steve Rusckowski, CEO of Quest, said the company hopes by next week to be processing between 2,000 and 3,000 tests per day at the Marlborough lab, though this will include specimens sent from all over the country.One ongoing problem with testing is a lack of supplies, like testing swabs. Rusckowski said Quest has been working to obtain supplies and send them to hospitals.
There have also been problems with long turnaround times for hospitals to obtain test results. Sudders said the state lab is now returning results in 24 to 48 hours, while Rusckowski said Quest takes three to four days, but hopes to decrease that time. As of last week, several hospital officials told CommonWealth it was taking them up to four days to get a response from the state lab.