Labs say coronavirus test components in short supply

(CNN) - In the cascading shortfalls of the national response to coronavirus, testing labs across the country are sounding the next alarm, saying there are shortages not just in tests but the components needed to conduct the tests.

Dr. Rod Hochman, the head of 51-hospital network Presbyterian St Joseph in Seattle, says key parts are missing.

“In certain cases it’s reagents, which are some of the chemicals that are used, and even in certain cases it’s just the availability of the appropriate swab in order to take the sample,” he said.

It’s the same story at New York Presbyterian Hospital: “There do continue to be challenges around expanding the testing significantly at this point…” Dr. Yoko Furuya said.

At the University of Nebraska’s testing lab, it’s the same story.

“We’re in the situation now where we actually don’t have the reagents from the extraction from the samples so that we can run the tests,” said Dr. Mark Rupp, infection control chief at the University of Nebraska Medical Center.

Health officials in multiple states said they do not have enough tests for people who need them because of a shortage.

In Minnesota, the state health agency is limiting testing to only “the highest priority specimens ... due to a national shortage of COVID-19 laboratory testing materials.”

The Ohio Department of Health said they’re only “testing our most vulnerable patients” due to a “global shortage of supplies.”

Protecting yourself from coronavirus

In West Virginia, the state health officer says she had to scrape together supplies from flu tests.

“There’s all kinds of things in the chain of testing. There’s swabs, there’s extraction and things, etc., etc. There are shortages on many pieces of it,” Dr. Cathy Slemp said.

West Virginia still has a critically low number of tests.

Military veteran Kenneth Hawthorne of Falling Waters, W.V. said he’s been to the emergency room three times in the past two weeks, sick with a cough and fever, but tested negative for flu, and he says he cannot get tested for COVID-19.

“They keep telling me that my wife and I are at low risk so we weren’t priority to take the test.” Hawthorne said.

A major test-maker, Roche Diagnostics corporation, said demand for its test is “greater than our ability to supply it.”

“Well, I think we needed to rethink how we’re going to deal with an epidemic or pandemic in this case," Hochman said. "The minute there was an outbreak in China several months ago, that should have started a whole sequence of events going. Now as everyone would say that’s, that’s the history, but what do we do now?”

Industries are responding, ramping up production, and both Labcorp and Quest said they are greatly increasing the number of tests they can process per day.

In the meantime, the CEO of the Association of Public Health Laboratories Scott Becker calls the situation a huge problem: “I’m really concerned that we are not going to have the capabilities to test those who really need and should get a test.”

The Food and Drug Administration said it is well aware of the shortages, and is trying to provide “information on alternative sources of reagents, extraction kits, swabs and more.”

As one lab official said, this is analogous to the run on toilet paper, labs chasing dwindling supplies, and hoping manufacturers can fill the void, and soon.

As more tests do come available, more people will find out they have coronavirus, which could overwhelm clinics and hospitals.

Copyright 2020 CNN. All rights reserved.