As demand for coronavirus testing rises again across the county and the state, Berkshire Health Systems is staffing up its testing hotline and warning that results could take longer to arrive because of processing delays.
Calls to the BHS testing hotline surged to over 1,000 per day by the end of last week, after previously averaging in the 100s and 200s, according to spokesperson Michael Leary. The numbers dropped back down over the weekend, but some callers still experienced long wait times Monday morning.
On its testing page, BHS says the hotline is experiencing “extremely high call volumes” but encourages people to stay on the line.
Leary told The Eagle that the hospital system has, so far, been able to handle the increase in requests. Appointments still are available within days at locations in North Adams, Pittsfield and Great Barrington.
But, the labs that process COVID-19 tests for BHS and other health care providers might be seeing the start of a new backlog.
Leary said results are taking up to five days to come back from Quest Diagnostics, the commercial lab that handles most of the tests from BHS. The typical turnaround time previously had been two days, he said.
“They have been overwhelmed with the number of tests that they are seeing statewide,” Leary said. Massachusetts reported more than 111,000 new PCR test results Saturday, the highest number since the pandemic began.
BHS does have limited capability to run rapid tests, Leary said. Those are reserved for health care workers and people exhibiting “severe symptoms.”
The slowdown in processing comes as private labs across the nation process a record number of tests, according to the American Clinical Laboratory Association, an industry group that represents Quest and other private labs.
Last Thursday, the association warned that there might be delays ahead because “some members could reach or exceed their current testing capacities in the coming days.” The group cited a surge in testing demand and some difficulty accessing critical supplies, like pipettes.
Quest said early last week that its average turnaround time nationwide was still two days but that the number could vary by region.
A spokesperson for Quest said it is providing test results for Berkshire Health Systems within an average of two days. “There may be an occasional outlier, but this is not the norm,” the company said.
At the height of testing backlogs over the summer, Quest reported wait times as high as two weeks.
Berkshire Health Systems encourages anyone who has been exposed to the virus to visit berkshirehealthsystems.org/coronavirus for their ideal testing window.