homepage logo

COVID-19 test result times a source of frustration

By Staff | Jul 23, 2020

Turns out it’s not just those with long wait times for COVID-19 test results that are frustrated, it’s the hospital system, too.

On Thursday, Lee Health officials voiced their displeasure when it comes to long turn around times for COVID-19 testing, saying some tests have taken up to two weeks to return results when sent to outside labs. The state on Thursday also reported the highest single-day death toll since the pandemic began with 173.

“The increased demand for coronavirus testing is continuing to lead to longer turnaround times to receive results,” said Lee Health President and CEO Dr. Larry Antonucci. “We are still processing as many tests as possible in our in-house labs, but with the high volume we are experiencing today, we need to send specimens to commercial labs in order to keep up. We are limited in the number of in-house tests we can perform by the supplies we are able to receive from the testing companies. While we often receive results back from outside commercial labs within a week, for many patients it might take as long as 14 days to learn their test results.

“These longer wait times naturally lead to frustration and anxiety. Frankly, we’re frustrated, too. We are working on acquiring additional testing kits so that we can perform more tests in our in-house labs.”

Antonucci said that Lee Health prioritizes lab testing for patients currently admitted in the hospital and is able to turn around those test results in a few hours.

Officials recommended that if someone is waiting for a test result and are showing symptoms, that individual should follow guidelines as if they were positive.

“Our goal is to get you back on your feet as quickly as possible. The time you are waiting on your test results will have no impact on the care you receive or the outcome of your infection,” Antonucci said. “If you are managing your illness from home, you should act under the assumption that you are positive and isolate yourself from others. If your symptoms worsen, particularly if you are having trouble breathing, contact your primary care physician immediately. If your symptoms are severe, come to the emergency department.”

To help ease the burden on Lee Health’s call centers, officials asked those who are looking for their test results to use the MyChart mobile app.

Antonucci said if a sample was collected through one of Lee Health’s mobile collection sites, one of their emergency departments, Convenient Care clinic or a Lee Physician Group office, that individual will get their COVID test result in the MyChart app as soon as their physician gets the result.

“We are asking to please hold off on calling to ask about COVID test results for at least 16 days after you’ve been tested,” Antonucci said. “Understandably, these longer wait times may cause concern that tests have been lost, but I promise you that is a very rare occurrence.”

Staffing concerns being addressed by system

Lee Health officials said Thursday they have a “substantial effort” under way to bring back seasonal staff ahead of schedule as well as return those who optioned to exercise Lee Health’s leave of absence or summer sabbatical programs.

Antonucci said at the time those programs were offered, volumes around the system were down nearly 40 percent, and “the current surge was unforeseeable.”

“The voluntary exit program was designed to secure Lee Health’s long-term financial outlook in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, it was not a short-term temporary solution,” Antonucci said. “Our volumes at the time were down nearly 40 percent, and the current surge was unforeseeable. However, this program has had little impact on our need to bring in additional staff to open up more beds. The COVID-19 pandemic has led to hospital volumes up to 30 percent higher than normal for this time of year, and hospitals across this country are facing these same challenges.”

With a rise in cases across Southwest Florida occurring out of season, Antonucci said finding extra staffing presents challenges.

“Hospitals staff to match expected patient volume, and due to the seasonality of Southwest Florida, many nurses, respiratory therapists and other team members with the right training and experience to care for COVID-19 patients are here only part of the year,” Antonucci said. “We have many seasonal workers who take the summer off. We have a substantial effort under way to bring back seasonal staff early and welcome back employees who were on a leave of absence or summer sabbatical.”

Antonucci said they have brought in additional nurses and that more are expected to arrive in the near future.

“We have brought in traveling nurses and more are coming in the next two weeks. Since July 6, 57 additional RNs have starting working in our hospitals, and we have more critical care staff starting work each week,” he said. “Lee Health is utilizing every resource available to bring in critical care staff to help relieve some of pressure currently being placed on our hospitals. We are also working to bring back some staff members who participated in the voluntary exit program on a contractual basis.”

Antonucci ended by again reminding the public that it is safe to come to the hospital or emergency room amidst the pandemic.

By the Numbers

As of 11 a.m. Thursday, there are 389,868 cases of the new coronavirus confirmed in Florida, an increase of 10,249 since FDOH’s last update Wednesday morning.

More than 93,600 test results were reported to the Department of Health on Wednesday, July 22. Of those reported tests, 12.31 percent tested positive. Over the last two weeks, the average positivity rate has been 12.65.

The state saw its highest daily percentage of positive patients July 8, when 18.50 percent of tests reported were positive among 51,686 tests.

The death toll increased by 173 from Wednesday’s update, reported among Lee, Alachua, Bay, Brevard, Broward, Clay, Columbia, Dade, Duval, Escambia, Flagler, Hernando, Hillsborough, Indian River, Jackson, Lake, Madison, Manatee, Marion, Martin, Orange, Osceola, Palm Beach, Pasco, Pinellas, Polk, Putnam, Santa Rosa, Sarasota, Seminole, St. Lucie, Suwannee and Volusia counties.

Thursday marks the single-largest reporting day for coronavirus-related deaths, breaking the previous high reported July 16 with 156. This does not mean all of the deaths occurred or were reported by local health care facilities on that day but that they were released in the state report that day after reports were processed.

A total of 3,215,185 individuals have been tested: 2,821,074 have tested negative, 4,243 tests were inconclusive and 2,626 tests are pending results. Of those testing positive, 22,644 Florida residents have been hospitalized at some point during their illness. There have been 5,631 deaths.

The age groups of Florida residents that have yielded the most positive test results are 25-34 years old (20%), followed by 35-44(16%), 15-24(16%) and 45-54 (16%).

The highest hospitalization rate is found in patients 65-74 (19%), 75-84 (18%) and 55-64 (18%) years old.

In Lee County, 13,768 (+373) individuals have tested positive as of 11 a.m. Thursday; 5,695 in Fort Myers (+135), 3,032 in Cape Coral (+80), 2,682 in Lehigh Acres (+92), 920 in Bonita Springs (+27), 458 in North Fort Myers (+13), 300 in Estero (+7), 79 in Alva (+7), 59 on Fort Myers Beach (+1), 33 in Sanibel (+0), 24 in Bokeelia (+3), 18 in Saint James City (+0), 10 in Tice (+0), eight on Matlacha (+0), three on Captiva (+0), three in Buckingham (+0); three in Boca Grande (+0), three in Miromar Lakes (+0), two in San Carlos Park (+0), one in South Fort Myers(+0) and one in Immokalee (+0);148 cases were not identified by community.

Positive COVID-19 cases in the county have ranged from infants to a 101-year-old. Lee County saw its first two cases on March 7, when a man and a woman, each 77, tested positive. They had traveled to the Dominican Republic.

There have been 247 (+2) deaths in Lee County; 148 deaths were reported in residents or staff of long-term care facilities.

As of Thursday, Lee Health had 296 COVID-19 patients isolated in system inpatient hospitals, including 24 new admissions Wednesday. A total of 1,704 patients who had tested positive have been discharged, including 44 on Wednesday.

The system has submitted a total of 40,652 specimens for testing with 1,298 results pending.

On Wednesday, Lee Health had a 23.8% positivity rate on COVID-19 tests processed through Lee Health Labs. This represents Lee Health results only, not Lee County as a whole. Hospital positivity rates tend to be higher as the tests are performed on patients seeking treatment for a health issue, not the general public that includes asymptomatic individuals.

Lee Health’s mobile collection sites on Wednesday collected 292 specimens.

Current census is at 97(-2)% of staffed operational bed capacity, with 23.3 (-.7)% of those being COVID-19 patients. Staffed operational capacity reflects the number of beds for which the hospital has adequate staffing, not the total number of beds within Lee Health hospitals. Overall bed capacity fluctuates hour to hour as the system discharges patients throughout the day who are ready to go home.

As of Thursday, 58 (+3) percent of ventilators and 13 (+7) percent of ICU rooms are available for use across Lee Health facilities.

There are 36 COVID-19 patients on ventilators and 57 in the intensive care unit, the same numbers as Wednesday.

COVID-19 is a highly contagious viral disease. For most individuals, symptoms are mild. For a minority, the disease becomes a type of viral pneumonia with severe complications. Especially at risk are those who are older, those with underlying health conditions and the immune-compromised.

Officials strongly urge all members of the public who are at risk to remain at home so as to limit exposure. All others are urged to observe social distancing and to wear a mask for all public interactions.

For more detail on Florida resident cases, visit the live DOH Dashboard.

To find the most up-to-date information and guidance on COVID-19, visit the Department of Health’s dedicated COVID-19 webpage. For information and advisories from the Centers for Disease Control, visit the CDC COVID-19 website. For more information about current travel advisories issued by the U.S. Department of State, visit the travel advisory website.

For any other questions related to COVID-19 in Florida, contact the Department’s dedicated COVID-19 Call Center by calling 1-866-779-6121. The Call Center is available 24 hours per day. Inquiries may also be emailed to COVID-19@flhealth.gov.

-Connect with this reporter on Twitter: @haddad_cj