'It's been 15 days:' Surge in demand leads to slow turnaround times for some COVID-19 test results

KENOSHA -- A surge in demand for coronavirus tests across the country is slowing the turnaround for some test results in southeast Wisconsin. A major pharmacy said it is experiencing backlogs and delays.

Across the area, you can drive up and get a coronavirus test at locations such as the CVS Pharmacy in Kenosha. People were told to expect their results in two to four days. That wasn't the case for Penny Miller.

"I called numerous times," Miller said. "It's been 15 days."

Miller had some symptoms of COVID-19 when her doctor recommended a test. She got one at the drive-thru site. Then, she waited -- missing two weeks of work and pay in the process.

"I work at a nursing home and I couldn't go back to work until I got a negative result or wait 14 days," said Miller. "It's been a really long time."

Miller's nephew -- Jacob Munns -- also got tested at CVS.

"Process was super easy. Super straight-forward," said Munns.

So did Munns' girlfriend -- Genesis Troha. Like Miller, Munns and Troha have been waiting much longer than two to four days to receive their results.

"Personally, I'm not getting paid for the time I'm off work," Troha said.

CVS Pharmacy

As it turns out, patient samples taken at CVS drive-thru testing sites "are sent offsite to independent, third-party labs" which currently have "extremely high demand." And that may be having consequences.

"I feel like a lot of people are not quarantining due to not knowing what the results are," said Munns.

CVS Health said that nationwide demand for COVID-19 tests is soaring, and that's led to a backlog with its lab partners and delays -- leading to slower turnaround times.

"I would encourage people on the front end, ask if your test is being shipped out of state," said Andrea Palm, Wisconsin Department of Health Services secretary-designee.

Drive-thru coronavirus test site

The Wisconsin DHS said the high demand on out-of-state labs used by pharmacies such as CVS, Walgreens and Walmart has slowed turnaround for the test results, in some cases, to 7-10 days. By comparison, the turnaround is three to five days at state-run testing sites, like those operated by the Wisconsin National Guard.

"The goal is to have good turnaround times so that you can get to the contact tracing part of this really quickly," Palm said.

The American Clinical Laboratory Association (ACLA) said it has "urged ordering providers to prioritize testing for those most in need, especially hospitalized and symptomatic patients."

Penny Miller

CVS Health said that under current demand "it may take at least five to seven days for people to receive the results."

While meeting with Contact 6, Miller got a voicemail from CVS Health. Soon after, she got a notification of a negative test result -- late, but welcome, news.

"My husband has issues, health issues, where it wouldn't have been good," Miller said.

The Wisconsin National Guard said there have been a few times when testing outpaced lab capacity in Wisconsin, but that it is not the case currently. If you have not gotten results from a state-run test site within five days, call your local health department.