Doctors explain lag in COVID-19 testing, say the 'worried well' may be to blame

One local doctor says the bottleneck appears to be in labs, a problem made worse by people who medical experts call the 'worried well,' who might want testing before taking a trip or to just reassure themselves. Their tests clog the system.
OAKLAND, Calif. (KGO) -- We hear the COVID-19 testing numbers every day.

It is human nature to look at them in real time, but in fact, the statistical pictures they paint do not reflect present reality. Often, there is a lag, and a significant one.

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Joel Stewart of Hayward understands that as well as anyone. He works in large retail stores, usually in aisles selling over the counter medications. Two weeks ago, Joel began developing what he thought were COVID-19 symptoms.

"I gotta' tell you I wasn't surprised I got it because I am standing next to thousands of people on a daily basis."

Nor was Glenn Pitman of Oakland surprised. He had gone to Texas for a family funeral.

"When we arrived there at the packed airport, no one was wearing a mask."



Glenn is related to an ABC7 employee. After returning home to Oakland, he learned that five people in Texas had tested positive. Immediately, before the onset of symptoms, Glenn quarantined voluntarily. Still, he wanted to be sure.

"How long did it take for you to get a test when you returned?" we asked.

"Four or five days."

"And how long to get the results?"

"14 days."

That 19-day period lasted longer than the required quarantine, and all because of delays in testing.

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"Yeah there was nothing available in Oakland, Alameda, San Leandro, anywhere in the East Bay," said Joel. Ultimately, he went to Contra Costa County. Nine days after his first symptoms. Joel received a diagnosis---negative.

Whether nine days or 19 days, Dr. Lisa Santora of Marin County Public Health says the they fail to keep pace with the spread of COVID-19.

"A two-day wait is ideal. When we see lags of greater than 3-5 days our ability to complete efficient contract tracing is impeded," she said.

Dr. Santora says the bottleneck appears to be in labs, a problem made worse by people who medical experts call the 'worried well,' who might want testing before taking a trip or to just reassure themselves. Their tests clog the system.

"It threatens our ability to keep pace with the disease and target strategies to slow the disease."

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Meantime, those who do have the disease, but don't know it walk among us, spreading it.

"These long waits invalidate the test and make it irrelevant," said Joel Stewart.

"Clearly it is not good for keeping people safe," added Glenn Pitman. "If I hadn't quarantined I could have infected a lot of people."

Those are two first-hand experiences with testing.

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