August 27, 2020

Senators Warren and Smith Request Information on Capacity of COVID-19 Testing Labs to Process Diagnostic Tests

Senators' letters come amid troubling reports that CDC has "quietly" changed guidance on asymptomatic COVID-19 testing

Letter to Quest | Letter to BioReference | Letter to ARUP Labs | Letter to LabCorp | Letter to Mayo Clinic

Washington, DC - United States Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Tina Smith (D-Minn.), members of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee, sent letters to several of the largest coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) testing laboratories -- Quest Diagnostics, Mayo Clinic, Labcorps, BioReference, and ARUP Laboratories -- regarding each company's capacity to process COVID-19 diagnostic tests and communicate results in a timely fashion. Reports indicate that the sharp rise in COVID-19 cases in July 2020 strained lab capacity, resulting in a troubling decline in the number of daily tests. 

"Testing allows for the timely detection of COVID-19 cases, which is crucial to combatting the spread of the virus and a key part of ending the ongoing pandemic," the senators wrote. "It is imperative that tests are not only readily available to anyone who suspects they may have been exposed to the virus, but also that individuals receiving tests are informed of the result quickly. This timely delivery allows individuals who test positive to self-isolate and avoid spreading the disease any further."

However, in June and July 2020, the United States saw a significant increase in COVID-19 cases as states across the country began relaxing their stay-at-home orders and reopening parts of their economies, including in Florida, Texas, Arizona, and California. While tens of thousands flocked to testing sites in these states and across the country, labs and local officials struggled to keep pace, and public health officials were even forced to turn away patients from testing sites and re-impose testing restrictions.

"Delayed test results and the inability to conduct enough tests seriously weakens the country's efforts to combat the pandemic. Delays in results can obfuscate public health officials' view of the virus and how it is spreading, hindering their ability to respond effectively and, in turn, prolonging the pandemic," Senators Warren and Smith concluded. "While testing numbers and turnaround times have improved in recent weeks, it is imperative we take steps now to prevent future delays and backlogs."

To better understand the current capacity of each of the labs, the demand each is receiving, and the resources needed to deliver test results as rapidly as possible and avoid backlogs, Senators Warren and Smith requested answers no later than September 9, 2020.

In April, Senators Warren and Smith led 44 of their colleagues in calling on Vice President Mike Pence, Head of the White House Coronavirus Taskforce and the Federal Emergency Management Agency  to conduct a national inventory of the COVID-19 diagnostic testing supply, publicly release data on testing results, and provide a detailed plan and timeline for addressing future shortages and gaps in the testing supply chain.