The surge in US cases has left labs overwhelmed and Covid-19 tests delayed

Originally Published: 21 JUL 20 02:48 ET
Updated: 21 JUL 20 08:51 ET

(CNN) -- Americans are testing positive for coronavirus in record-breaking numbers across the US and the surge in cases is slowing down the time tests take.

Labs across the country are now facing what seems like an almost "infinite" demand, one expert says.

"We really do need to improve our turnaround times, primarily in areas and counties of outbreaks," Adm. Brett Giroir, a White House coronavirus task force member, said.

Diagnostic labs are feeling the effects of the spike in cases, with a leading commercial lab saying testing results can now take up to two weeks for some patients.

The delays come even as labs work to scale up their capacity, Quest Diagnostics said in a news release. Demand is even higher in the South, Southwest and West regions of the US, Quest said.

And the pandemic is still in its early stages, said Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota.

To help combat the spread of the virus, at least three mayors have mentioned reverting back to tighter measures, and nearly 40 states have some type of mask requirement in place. Masks, experts have said, are one of the most powerful tools to prevent further infections.

But keeping people apart is just as important, Osterholm stressed Monday. "It's all about distancing. And that's what actually drove down the numbers last spring," he said.

"We really did create a lot of distancing and until we do that, we're going to have an impossible time driving this virus down to a level which then we can test and trace on a routine basis like other countries and open up our economy again safely."

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Tightening measures

In Texas, Hidalgo County Judge Richard Cortez issued a shelter-at-home order for all residents following a sharp uptick in cases and hospitalizations. The order, which includes a curfew, travel limitations and facial covering requirements, comes as the county's hospitals have hit capacity, Cortez said.

"To care for the patients that are already with the virus, we need more personnel, and personnel meaning doctors, nurses, technicians, respiratory technicians," the judge told MSNBC's Rachel Maddow. "Oxygen, of course, it is a big shortage right now. It is extremely important for us to have the necessary supplies."

Tuesday on CNN's "New Day," Dr. Peter Hotez of the Baylor College of medicine, explained why southern states such as Texas and Florida are seeing increased deaths.

"We had 34 deaths in the last 24 hours in not a very large county, so South Texas is just getting hit incredibly hard," Hotez said. "The hospitals are overwhelmed."

He said the county and many of the victims are poor, Hispanic, and working in jobs deemed essential, so they have to be at work to support their families. "There are many stories across Texas and across the southern United States among Hispanic and Latinx communities just getting hammered, and we're not really getting a full accounting of this," Hotez said.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, who previously pushed for one of the most aggressive reopenings, has more recently emphasized the importance of masks. He issued a mandate on face coverings earlier this month but has said there will not be another lockdown.

White House coronavirus response coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx said Monday taking the right precautions could be nearly as powerful as another lockdown.

"What would happen if (there was) 100% mask use in public areas, closing bars, limiting indoor gatherings and decreasing dining capacity," she said. "When we modeled it, it came very close to the impacts of sheltering in place."

At least 27 states have now halted or rolled back reopening measures in response to cases.

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In California, the governor shut down indoor operations for restaurants, movie theaters, wineries and closed down bars last week. Thirty counties on the state's watch list were required to close indoor operations for fitness centers, salons and places of worship.

The governor's office said Monday hair salons and barbershops in 33 counties could reopen outside. That's as Los Angeles County broke its record for daily hospitalizations for the fourth time in a week, said Dr. Barbara Ferrer, the county's public health director. There are now 2,232 patients hospitalized, about 26% of whom are in the ICU, Ferrer said.

In Kentucky, where the governor Sunday announced the state's highest single-day total, officials reduced the number of people allowed at social gatherings from 50 back down to 10.

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Governor says children are 'going to get over it'

States are now deciding what will happen next month, when students are slated to return to class. Many districts throughout the country have already announced they are beginning the year with online instruction.

President Donald Trump has said he's pressuring governors to reopen classrooms.

In Missouri, Gov. Mike Parson said Monday the state has to move forward with sending children back, saying the students are the "least likely to have a problem" if they contract the coronavirus.

"These kids have got to get back to school," the governor said during a radio interview Friday. "They're at the lowest risk possible. And if they do get Covid-19, which they will -- and they will when they go to school -- they're not going to the hospitals. They're not going to have to sit in doctor's offices. They're going to go home and they're going to get over it."

But new research from South Korea reveals older children -- between the ages of 10 and 19 -- can transmit the virus just as much as adults can.

While the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is still studying the role children play in transmission, the agency recommends children socially distance at 6 feet apart from people they don't live with and anyone 2 years and older wear masks in public when socially distancing is difficult.

Three vaccine trials offer hope

After new data released Monday from three different coronavirus vaccine trials, there's good reason to be hopeful.

Evidence showed the vaccines can produce immune responses that would be expected to protect people against infection and all appeared to be safe.

The results were promising, researchers say, but large-scale trials are needed to determine whether the vaccine protects against the virus.

"The responses measured in the blood and the absence of serious harms indicate there is a possibility of an effective vaccine against Covid-19," Stephen Evans, a professor of pharmacoepidemiology at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, told the Science Media Center in the UK about the Oxford trial.

"It does not yet show that the disease is reduced or prevented, and this will not be easy to show until Phase 3 trials have been completed in settings where the SARS Cov-2 virus is circulating at a high rate and people are getting clinical and severe disease."

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