Why Some COVID-19 Tests Are Processed Same Day And Others Take Five

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ENFIELD, NY (WSKG) – The processing time of COVID-19 tests depends on what’s happening that day at Cayuga Medical Systems in Tompkins County.  They often have more tests to process than the lab can manage in a single day.  Plus, in urgent cases, many tests jump to the head of the line.

Ciera Carhart/Cayuga Medical Center

Dr. Elizabeth Plocharczyk, Assistant Director of the Laboratory at Cayuga Medical Systems. (Ciera Carhart/Cayuga Medical Center)

The system must quickly test anyone undergoing outpatient surgery, all women delivering a baby, and patients discharged to a nursing facility.

Dr. Elizabeth Plocharczyk is the Assistant Medical Director of the laboratory at Cayuga Medical Systems.

“A lot of times they won’t be able to get a bed in a skilled nursing facility unless they have demonstrated a negative COVID test,” Plocharczyk said. “So, we need to preserve the capacity for the shorter turnaround time for those patients.”

Plus, new state requirements have expanded the list of priorities.

“There’s been a lot more demand on our capacity with the new nursing home mandate,” she said.

That mandate requires all nursing home staff to be tested twice a week.

Overall, they can receive as many as 800 test samples each day at Cayuga Medical Systems.  It has technology to provide same-day results for COVID tests, but the limit is about 200 tests per day.

The lab has additional equipment that could also process COVID-19 samples. However, Plocharczyk said there’s a shortage of some materials needed to operate that equipment.

So, many of the lower-priority test samples must be sent to the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota for analysis.  As a result, it might be five days before those patients see their test results.

Full disclosure: Cayuga Medical Center is a WSKG Underwriter.