Local doctors suggest scaling back asymptomatic COVID-19 testing to ease the backlog

Some patients are waiting up to 2 weeks to get test results
COVID testing at Meharry
Posted at 5:13 PM, Jul 16, 2020
and last updated 2020-07-16 21:32:17-04

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — Lately, at Meharry Medical College, the line for a COVID-19 test just keeps on coming.

"600 people per day," said Michelle Drumgold, the Clinical Education Director with Meharry."I feel like we’re equipped and staffed well enough to keep up with that patient load."

While testing centers can keep up, Dr. Aaron Milstone tells NewsChannel 5, many of the labs are falling behind.

"It may take as short as 2 days or as long as 2 weeks to get those results. You can imagine if you're sick, you can’t wait 2 weeks to get your test results," said Milstone, a Pulmonologist at Williamson Medical Center.

The longer it takes for those results to come back, the more someone may unintentionally spread the virus. That's also delaying efforts to conduct contact tracing.

"We would at this point need an army of individuals. Seven hundred plus contact tracers can no longer do the job," said Dr. Milstone.

Dr. David Aronoff at Vanderbilt University Medical Center is also worried about strains on testing supplies.

"We need to make sure we have enough of the chemicals and reagents and swabs to do the testing and overall, that’s been the biggest rate limiter around the country," said Aronoff, who is the Director of Infectious Diseases at VUMC.

Both doctors are now recommending that patients with symptoms should get first priority when it comes to testing. "We really need to be able to prioritize those patients and then let the contact tracers from the department of health do their job," said Aronoff.

Dr. Gill Wright with Metro Public Heath says their partner labs are stepping up their game. "They feel like once they get those machines up by next Monday that they’ll be able to take it back down to a 2-day time frame," said Dr. Wright.

Wright says Metro Public Health will continue widespread testing in Nashville for now, because even those without symptoms can unintentionally spread it.

"At least if I have symptoms, I know to stay home," said Dr. Wright.

Milstone says he supports widespread testing if we can keep up. Lately, he argues, that just isn't happening.

"[If] we can get a test result in under 72 hours, then I’m all for continuing, but we’re not there any longer. We’ve long surpassed the ability to control the pandemic in Tennessee," said Dr. Milstone.