Delays in N.J. coronavirus test results grow, could be up to 1 week again because of spikes in other states

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The length of time to get coronavirus test results in New Jersey has been increasing steadily for three weeks because of a national demand and supply shortage as numerous other states are seeing surges in new cases, the state’s top health official said Monday.

The development has the potential to complicate contact tracing, calculating the daily positivity rate, and further lifting restrictions in the Garden State.

State Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli said New Jersey had been seeing turnaround times of between two and four days. Now it’s more than five, she said.

Persichilli said chains like CVS has told people it could take between five and seven days to learn results, while Walmart has said it could be four to six days. That’s nearly half of the 14-day self-quarantine period for people who believe they may contracted or had close contact with someone who became infected.

“While you are awaiting results, please take steps to limit your contact with others so you don’t potentially spread the virus to friends and family,” Persichilli said during New Jersey’s latest coronavirus briefing in Trenton. “To help mitigate risk, wear a mask or face covering, frequently wash your hands, and please practice social distancing.”

Quest Diagnostics said turnaround time for high-priority patients — like those in hospitals and symptomatic health-care workers — is slightly more than 1 day but 7 or more days for all others.

“Wee are doing everything we can to bring more COVID-19 molecular diagnostic testing to patients at this critical time,” the company said in a statement. “However, we are limited in how quickly we can add capacity.”

Gov. Phil Murphy on Monday still called on New Jersey residents to get tested to both “protect our state” amid the spikes in other states and to “continue moving forward on our road back.”

“Getting tested is perhaps even more important than ever,” Murphy said. “We have the capacity to meet the demand.”

The state has seen roughly 20,000 tests administered daily in recent weeks, though Friday was more than double that amount, Murphy said. Testing is available at about 245 locations in New Jersey, he said.

The shortages and delays have focused more on the materials needed to evaluate the tests.

“This is a national surge of cases that has really eaten into the reagent supply,” Murphy said. “My gut tells me this is going to be like this for a little bit. We’re going to have a wider window between testing and feedback.”

New Jersey is currently in Stage 2 of its plan to gradually lift coronavirus lockdown restrictions. But Monday was the first time since May that a week did not begin with some sort of reopening in New Jersey. Murphy did announce later in the day he is lifting capacity limits on NJ Transit buses and trains.

It’s unclear if the testing lags will have any negative effect on the reopening process.

New Jersey on Monday reported 22 more deaths attributed to COVID-19 and 231 more positive tests.

The state has now reported 15,560 deaths — 13,613 lab-confirmed and 1,947 considered probable — with 175,522 known cases since its first case was announced March 4.

Once a coronavirus hotspot, New Jersey has seen its daily figures drop dramatically since peaking in April and remain relatively steady in recent weeks.

But officials were alarmed earlier this month when New Jersey’s rate of transmission jumped back above the key figure of 1 — meaning, on average, every newly infected resident was passing COVID-19 to at least one other person.

The number is now below that mark again. The latest rate was 0.91, officials said Monday.

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Still, the state is calling on people traveling from 19 states with rising cases to voluntarily self-quarantine for 14 days after arriving in New Jersey, including residents returning home.

Murphy also announced last week the state is now requiring people to wear masks outdoors in public when they can’t practice social distancing.

More than 1.3 million New Jersey residents have filed for unemployment benefits as the pandemic continues to wreak havoc on the economy.

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Brent Johnson may be reached at bjohnson@njadvancemedia.com.