March 20, 2020
As of March 18, 2020, more than 200,000 patients globally have been diagnosed with coronavirus (COVID-19). More than 10,000 patients in the United States have been diagnosed. This staggering number will continue to increase daily, which is alarming to all of us. Many of us are home wondering if we have asymptomatic symptoms and we have never been told it is in our best interest to stay home for up to 14 days. None of us know what the next few months will bring, but one day, the number of diagnosed COVID-19 patients will decrease because the best researchers in the world are rapidly and vigorously working on clinical trials to produce a vaccine that will eradicate COVID-19. In the meantime, there is a fear of possible shortages of protective gear, ventilators, hospital bed shortages, and clinical lab test delays.
The International Reagent Resource (IRR) was established by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to provide registered users with reagents. Reagents are provided by IRR based upon the needs and demand of the scientific community. Each laboratory that initially places an order will receive one CDC 2019-nCOV Real-Time RT-PCR diagnostic panel and each panel can test 700-800 patient specimens. The delay in receiving reagents, panels, protective gear, provides an example of possible ripple effects the COVID-19 will have among global testing laboratories, in regards to supplies, shipping, staffing, communication, and equipment.
Trained clinical lab technicians and other lab personnel are among those, who may be diagnosed or exposed to COVID-19. Yes, it is a rush to collect and process specimens; however, clinical lab technicians must still remember to practice safety precautions at all times. These technicians must protect themselves and those around them because we need them to be healthy because they have a valuable job to complete. Physicians need the results obtained by clinical lab technicians, in order to learn the patient’s diagnosis and adequately design a treatment plan for each patient.
When testing patients for COVID-19, a nasopharyngeal swab will be utilized to collect cells. Possible sputum may also be collected for testing purposes. These specimens will be transported on ice to qualified labs that utilize FDA authorized tests. Oftentimes, these specimens will be stored up to 72 hours or less and can be processed immediately only with adequate staffing and resources. You never want to wait too long to process specimens because you do not want to obtain false-negative results, which can lead to a patient exposing even more people to COVID-19. False-negative results rarely happen, but we can never take a chance of waiting too long to test specimens. This is why it is beneficial that many U.S. laboratories are offering COVID-19 testing services.