COVID-19 testing labs see materials shortages straining system amid omicron surge

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Wednesday, January 12, 2022
More than 1.4 million new US COVID cases reported in 24 hours
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More than 1.4 million new COVID cases were reported in the U.S. in 24 hours as COVID-19 numbers are starting to plateau for the first time in weeks.

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- The same labs shouldering much of the nation's polymerase chain reaction (PCR) COVID-19 testing are getting slammed yet again amid the omicron surge, according to ABC News. But now, lab staff members are faced with a new challenge. Their workforces are getting hit by the virus they have been tasked with tracking.

The video above is from a related story.

The American Clinical Laboratory Association (ACLA), the national trade association representing some of the leading clinical labs, is now warning of a staffing shortage as more workers are getting infected.

"Labs are now facing a wave of new issues brought on by a fast-spreading variant that has not spared the laboratory care work force," an ACLA spokesperson told ABC.

SEE RELATED STORY: US hospitals strained with influx of patients amid latest COVID surge, staffing shortages

The infections have increased laboratory staff sick leave, staffing a "significant factor in determining overall capacity" at an industry-wide level, the spokesperson said.

During the pandemic's earlier days, labs saw raw materials' shortages straining the testing system. Supplies like pipette tips and reagent were hard to come by, contributing to the backlog in turnaround times.

Omicron is making manpower the supply issue, and staff depleted by sick leave are struggling to contend with the demand caused by the new variant.

ACLA noted that hiring additional and/or temporary workers takes time and training and is occurring in an environment with competition among other health care sectors also experiencing workforce strain.

On Wednesday, ABC reported CDC Director Rochelle Walensky underscored how omicron is putting serious strain on the country's health care system because of its sheer transmissibility.

Testing supplies themselves are "currently stable" though if the surge in demand continues.

"Since the outset of the pandemic in March 2020, ACLA member labs have been leading the way in developing, scaling and performing PCR COVID-19 tests and have performed upwards of 175 million tests since then," the ACLA said in a statement. "While we once again are facing a surge in cases and an uptick in demand for tests nationwide, ACLA members continue to prioritize expanding testing capacity to ensure that anyone who needs a test is able to get one when they need to."

A spokesperson also added the association is continuing to work with the White House COVID-19 Task Force and President Joe Biden's Administration more broadly on the challenges they are facing.

SEE RELATED: 5 reasons you should not deliberately catch omicron to 'get it over with'

In addition, Quest Diagnostics, one of the largest testing companies in the country, told ABC Wednesday that their turnaround time for results remains stretched at two to three days, on average. This backlog has now persisted for more than a week.

Their average positivity rate for those results remains above 30%, Quest told ABC, following a "sharp increase" that began in the last two weeks of December.

Many Americans may be waiting even longer for their results. Another issue is that delayed results could also mean an infected person may not find out their status in time to receive a treatment that could help them nip the virus in the bud before worsening.

All this comes as the country shattered yet another record for daily case averages and single day case totals, now reporting more than 750,000 new cases a day.

But, the surge may mean a light at the end of the tunnel.

A new report from the Associated Press noted that the number of COVID cases in the U.S. may soon drop dramatically as the omicron wave approaches its peak. The reason being that the variant has proved to be so contagious that it may already be running out of people to infect.

SEE RELATED: US COVID cases may soon drop dramatically as omicron wave approaches its peak