Mounting backlog at ‘overwhelmed’ labs slowing COVID-19 test turnaround in JoCo

Johnson County schools are set to increase their testing capacity by thousands, using a new spit-based test. File photo.

Note: The Shawnee Mission Post is making much of its local coverage of the coronavirus pandemic accessible to non-subscribers. (If you value having a news source covering the situation in our community, we hope you’ll consider subscribing here).

Usually, people tested for COVID-19 can expect to have their results back within five to seven business days, but the health department said those in Johnson County might have to wait a little longer.

On June 26, the Johnson County Department of Health and Environment held a drive-up testing station, and 987 people were tested. That volume of tests — added to those administered daily elsewhere — could exacerbate the existing backlog, Nancy Tausz, health services division director, said.

“There is more testing … in the entire area. And so the labs are just, oh my goodness, they have a backlog now because of all the tests that people are turning in,” Tausz said. “Unfortunately we don’t have any control over that…We’re dependent on what the lab process is.”

There’s no way to know how long it could take people to get their results, or even how long it will take to get through the backlog, Tausz said.

But some people are getting anxious — the health department is receiving calls and emails from people who were tested wondering about their results.

“It’s a frustration for us too as well as people waiting for the results,” Tausz said. “We just wanted to make sure everyone knew that we were waiting on results — that’s why they’re delayed in getting their results.”

Tausz estimated that about 1,300 people could be waiting on their results still. People who do test positive are alerted by phone as soon as the health department is aware. Those who test negative are alerted by mail.

Slow test return slows the whole process down, Tausz said.

“This is like a domino effect. We need to wait again and it’s just the process. The process has to play out,” Tausz said.

In the coming weeks, the health department hopes to expand testing even more, starting with the addition of more clinics in its facility.

“They’re backlogged already, but we want to continue testing. We think that’s important,” Tausz said.

Additionally, labs involved in the testing process might have fewer people available over the weekend to work because of the Fourth of July, Tausz said.

To make an appointment to be tested for COVID-19 in Johnson County, visit the health department website. All testing slots for the rest of this week are full, but people are encouraged to check back to see if there are any cancellations.