Going for a test for COVID-19 is not a fun experience.

But in central Missouri, a person tested can find out the results in 24 hours or less, instead of a week or longer in other parts of the state.

When a patient arrives at a test site, they must tilt their head back at a 70-degree angle, opening up their nose to allow passage of a long swab.

To get the sample, the person collecting it must push the swab through the nostril, all the way back to the throat. For an optimal sample, it should be done through both nostrils.

That prevents false positives from any material that may be present in a person's mouth.

The next step is to put the swab in a specimen tube, pack it in a biohazard bag and label it properly so the lab performing the test knows who it is for.

Since testing began in Missouri, the Department of Health and Senior Services has reported the results of 21,931 samples, with 1,834 positives showing coronavirus infection. Of that number, about 17 percent have been collected by MU Health Care, which had done 2,774 tests by Thursday afternoon, and Boone Hospital Center, which had done 705 since March 12, most at drive-through test facilities.

Those samples are sent to GeneTrait Laboratories, a Columbia company that has been able to provide results in less than 24 hours in most cases, which can be many times faster than specimens sent to other commercial labs.

Part of the reason may be volume, said Tim McCarty, spokesman for GeneTrait.

"We have the equipment and capacity and a low enough volume that those batches come in and are processed quickly," he said. "Other labs are backlogged, receiving tests form all over the country. We are able to take care of our community here and not worry about the volume from across the country."

During Gov. Mike Parson's daily briefing on the COVID-19 outbreak, Dr. Randall Williams, director of the Department of Health and Senior Services, said some people in Missouri are waiting up to eight days for test results.

The state Health Lab produces results daily from the approximately 75 samples it receives. Some private labs are taking much longer, he said.

"As I look at it and listen, it appears, especially for some of the larger commercial labs, they tend to batch them," Williams said.

GeneTrait is smaller and quicker, he said.

"I would tell you for the smaller labs, there is one getting back test results the same day in mid-Missouri, so there is a range," he said.

To obtain a test in Missouri, a person with suspected COVID-19 must show symptoms of the disease and receive a doctor's authorization to have a sample taken. The priority people to be tested are those with symptoms who are hospitalized, living in a group setting like a nursing home, or people who have had known contact with an infected patient.

A shortage of any of the material needed to conduct the test, from the swabs and tubes to protective gear and lab materials for separating the virus' RNA in the sample, could bring testing to a halt.

So far, MU Health and Boone Hospital said, they have not experienced any shortages that have caused them to stop collecting samples.

"We have an adequate supply of these items and have not halted testing due to any shortages," MU Health spokesman Eric Maze wrote in an email.

The same is true at Boone Hospital, spokesman Ben Cornelius wrote in an email.

"We have not had to stop testing at any point due to supply issues," he said.

Once the results are known, generally within 12 to 24 hours, Cornelius said, the doctor who ordered the test is informed and they contact the patient. Positive results are also reported to the state health department and the Columbia-Boone County Department of Public Health and Human Services, if the patient is from Boone County.

GeneTrait has not experienced any shortages of the materials consumed in processing the samples, McCarty said. The lab, which generally receives samples taken in the region between St. Louis and Kansas City, could process more tests if the criteria are relaxed, McCarty said.

"At our laboratory, we are not concerned about volume," he said. "We are operating at about 20 percent of capacity and we have easy ways to expand capacity if we get close."



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