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Why some COVID-19 tests take longer than others

It isn't first come, first served

ST. LOUIS — When it comes to COVID-19 testing, getting the swab stuck up your nose might actually be the easy part: waiting up to a week for results has proven to be a test of its own.

“I’ve put my life on hold longer than I was expecting to, but now, like I said, I’m playing the waiting game,” said a local man who wishes to only be identified as “Tyler.” That's because he saw family over the weekend while awaiting his test results and he is worried what they will think--even though he only got tested out of an abundance of caution after someone at his workplace contracted the virus.

“You feel healthy, you feel completely fine, but you want to do, you want to do what’s right for the people around you.”

Tyler’s been waiting more than 10 days for his tests, something many people are experiencing as labs are inundated with results to process. However, where you go may determine how long you wait.

Most urgent cares and testing facilities send their samples to third-party labs for testing, like LabCorp or Quest Diagnostics. LabCorp has said they will run testing “ensuring that vulnerable or sick patients and healthcare workers receive priority, and performing testing for other patients in the order in which they are received.” Quest, which runs tests for some area pop-up testing sites and local urgent care centers, has a three tier system of prioritization:

Priority 1: Hospitalized patients, Symptomatic healthcare workers
Priority 2: Symptomatic patients in long-term care facilities, symptomatic patients over age 65 years, symptomatic patients with underlying conditions, symptomatic first responders
Priority 3: Symptomatic critical infrastructure workers, symptomatic individuals who do not meet other categories, healthcare facility workers and first responders, individuals with mild symptoms in hot zone communities

If your doctor orders a test through a hospital, you may have that processed on site—and get your results more quickly. Call your primary care physician if you are feeling symptoms and they can advise you of the best place to go next.

In St. Louis County, a Health Department spokesperson told 5 On Your Side that because of a partnership with SSM to process test samples at their sites, the County receives results within 72 hours.

“Since we have expanded the testing criteria to include those that are asymptomatic, anyone that is a County resident can get tested at either two of our testing locations in Sunset Hills or Berkeley,” said that spokesperson. “The County testing website does describe several symptoms that should prompt someone to get tested, but they are not a requirement for testing.”

Not all testing locations in St. Louis County are through the Health Department: for a total list of their locations, click here.

Several locations in St. Louis city no longer require patients to be experiencing symptoms for their free tests—but because private labs are used to analyze results, some reports are being delayed. A city spokesperson also says the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services is experiencing a backlog of case results that need to be entered into their database.

Total Access Urgent Care, which has locations across the bi-state, has seen an influx in patients since beginning to offer COVID-19 testing for anyone with or without symptoms. If you don’t have insurance, you will have to pay $99 for the test and health evaluation, but TAUC will submit your bill for reimbursement under the CARES Act. Appointments are currently walk-in only.

CVS Pharmacy is offering testing at locations around the St. Louis area for people who meet CDC-specific criteria. You must register on the CVS website to schedule an appointment, providing insurance information and verifying if you’re eligible for testing.

“Patient samples collected at CVS Health’s COVID-19 drive-thru testing sites are sent offsite to independent, third-party labs who are responsible for processing and delivering the results, which we then communicate to patients," said a spokesperson." Because of this, you may experience delays currently.

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