Coronavirus

Alabama COVID-19 Testing Rife with Delays and Uncertainty

Pennsylvania Commonwealth microbiologist Kerry Pollard performs a manual extraction of the coronavirus inside the extraction lab at the Pennsylvania Department of Health Bureau of Laboratories on March 6, 2020. (Source: Multimedia Specialist Natalie Kolb, Commonwealth Media Services)

As the number of coronavirus cases in Alabama continues to rise, more people are hoping to be tested. A drive-through testing site on U.S. 280 shut down Tuesday after hordes of people showed up and overwhelmed the private lab. The Alabama Department of Public Health says that, with a physician’s authorization, an individual can get tested. But laboratories don’t have the manpower to produce results in a timely manner.

More than a week ago, Sevim, an ESL teacher in Huntsville, experienced what she believed to be coronavirus symptoms. She asked us to use her first name only to protect her identity. Her newest student is from Japan. The student came to school sick a couple of weeks ago. 

Soon after, Sevim was sick too. She went to an urgent care clinic and was tested for coronavirus. Two days later, she called for an update on her results.

“I waited on the phone and I found out that the state department threw out my testing, that they didn’t test it,” she said. “That’s all that was told to me.”

Sevim’s symptoms worsened. She called her doctor again, who told her to go to the emergency room. There, she saw another doctor.

“She saw my symptoms and said your symptoms are definitely the coronavirus,” she said. “And I knew it was because I went from the typical flu like to you can’t breathe in your chest and you’re breathless and the mucus just taking over your body.”

Sevim was tested again. Then the doctor sent her home to self-isolate while she waited for the results. Several days later, she’s still waiting.

Sevim’s story isn’t unique. Even some private labs are having difficulty turning around test results quickly.

Dr. Jeanne Marazzo, director of the division of infectious diseases at UAB, on Monday said tests are available for people who need them. However, she said laboratories across the state don’t have the personnel to provide test results.

UAB Medicine's Dr. Eric Wallace and Dr. Jeanne Marrazzo are live with the latest updates on COVID-19. For the latest information, visit uab.edu/coronavirus.

Posted by UAB – The University of Alabama at Birmingham on Monday, March 16, 2020

“So right now, we’re still operating in a situation where it’s taking us 48 to 72 hours to get test results back,” she said. “That’s not OK. We need same-day testing. We need test results really quickly.”

Initially, the Alabama Department of Public Health said labs must report positive test results within four hours of identification. But that seems nearly impossible. Marazzo said the demand is quickly outstripping the resources laboratories have available. That’s not only an issue in Alabama, Marrazzo said, but in lots of places across the country.