COVID-19 testing wait times have been longer in the Interior

COVID tests taking longer

The turnaround time for COVID-19 tests in Interior Health is significantly higher than the province's average.

In early June, Interior Health had some issues with the PCR instrument at Kelowna General Hospital that analyses the bulk of the region's COVID-19 tests. As a result, many of the Interior's tests have been sent to the BC Centre for Disease Control in Vancouver.

This change can be seen in the BCCDC's daily testing turnaround data posted online. Through most of April and May, IH turnaround times bounced between roughly 20 and 35 hours, but beginning in early June, times rose dramatically, hitting a high of 91 hours on June 17.

Throughout all of June, average turnaround times across B.C. was about 25 hours, while Interior Health saw an average of close to 40 hours in that same time period.

“We had our main PCR instrument at KGH down for some troubleshooting in June and during that time we had to send our outpatient tests to the BCCDC in Vancouver, so that introduces an extra delay just because of the transport time,” said Dr. Launny Lowden, medical director of laboratory for Interior Health.

She added the Interior Health region is relatively large geographically compared to other health regions, with many remote communities.

“It's actually very impressive that we're doing as well as we are compared to the other health authorities, due to that geography we're faced with,” Dr. Lowden said.

While IH said earlier this month that people should expect their test results back within 24 to 48 hours, Dr. Lowden now says most results should be expected within 48 to 72 hours. 

Despite the challenges, she says the turnaround times of urgent tests – those related to an outbreak or of residents of a long-term care home – have been kept under 24 hours, by using smaller testing machines at several hospitals across the region. These machines don't have the capacity to test all cases though, so the majority of tests are being sent to the BCCDC in Vancouver.

Dr. Lowden says the issue they were having with the PCR instrument at KGH was traced back to a certain type of swab that was being used, and so now that the machine is back up and running, they're using it to test and verify the accuracy of other types of swabs.

“We're taking the opportunity right now, while the test volumes are really low, during this kind of lull in the summer, to validate other types of swabs for testing on the instrument,” Dr. Lowden said, adding two of KGH's lab technologists have also been sent to Vancouver for additional training.

“This is a fairly new technology in Interior Health, a new type of testing and it's quite complex. So we're doing all this preparation work while we have the chance, while things are slower, so that we can be better prepared for a possible surge in the fall.”

The large PCR machine at KGH is expected to be back testing local swabs by mid-July.

“I do understand it's really difficult for patients and families waiting on a result,” Dr. Lowden said. “That time can be quite stressful.”

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