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Some patients waiting 10 days for COVID-19 test results from private labs

One 72-year-old man who experienced symptoms went through all the steps to get tested. Then he waited. And waited.

HOUSTON — Some Houston health providers are running into a problem beyond the shortage of coronavirus test kits: getting results for the tests they do give patients.

At the Medical Clinic of Houston near Rice University, doctors have been testing about a dozen patients a day. They swab the nose of those coming in and send the kits off to LabCorp, one of the largest private labs in the country.

And then the waiting begins.

“Everyday people are calling trying to get their results,” said managing partner Dr. Martin White. “All we can do is reassure them that we’re checking everyday and all we can do is hope that the situation will improve as we go forward.”

White said approximately 180 of the clinic’s patients have been waiting an average of 8-10 days to learn whether they have the coronavirus.

Charley Jones was one of them. The 72-year-old type-2 diabetic had fever and a persistent cough. He called his longtime primary care doctor, got tested, and was initially told that LabCorp was processing results within three to five days.

Nine days passed.

“And we don’t know, and all the people I’ve come in contact with don’t know,” Jones said. “It’s frustrating.”  

White said he and his colleagues keep in regular contact with patients and do their best to clinically assess symptoms while waiting for the coronavirus results.

“We’re still advising them to isolate until we get an answer, and I wish we could get if faster,” Dr. White said.

A LabCorp spokesperson said it can process 20,000 COVID-19 tests per day at four facilities across the country.

“We are looking at all possibilities to increase our capacity both within our current testing laboratories and at other labs,” spokesperson Mike Geller said.

White said his office is a microcosm of the struggles physicians are currently facing across the country.

“Everybody is working just as hard as they can to get it better, but the problem is advancing faster than we’re able to catch up,” he said.

Jones doesn’t wish the agonizing wait on anyone.

“It’s unacceptable, totally, that’s not acceptable at all,” he said.

Late Thursday, Jones finally got his test results: positive for COVID-19.

He said his spirits are still high, but his biggest worry is how many others he may have exposed.

Coronavirus symptoms

The symptoms of coronavirus can be similar to the flu or a bad cold. Symptoms include a fever, cough and shortness of breath, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Some patients also have nausea, headaches and stomach issues.

Most healthy people will have mild symptoms. A study of more than 72,000 patients by the Centers for Disease Control in China showed 80 percent of the cases there were mild.

But infections can cause pneumonia, severe acute respiratory syndrome, kidney failure and even death, according to the World Health Organization. Older people with underlying health conditions are most at risk for becoming seriously ill. However, U.S. experts are seeing a significant number of younger people being hospitalized, including some in ICU.

The CDC believes symptoms may appear anywhere from two to 14 days after being exposed.

Human coronaviruses are usually spread through...

  • The air by coughing or sneezing
  • Close personal contact, such as touching or shaking hands
  • Touching an object or surface with the virus on it, then touching your mouth, nose or eyes before washing your hands.

Help stop the spread of coronavirus

  • Stay home when you are sick.
  • Eat and sleep separately from your family members
  • Use different utensils and dishes
  • Cover your cough or sneeze with your arm, not your hand.
  • If you use a tissue, throw it in the trash.
  • Follow social distancing

Lower your risk

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.
  • If you are 60 or over and have an underlying health condition such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes or respiratory illnesses like asthma or COPD, the World Health Organization advises you to try to avoid crowds or places where you might interact with people who are sick.

Get complete coverage of the coronavirus by texting 'FACTS' to 713-526-1111.