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Pa. lawmakers confront COVID-19 testing challenges

Some patients are not receiving their COVID-19 test results for up to 14 days.

HARRISBURG, Pa. — The Pennsylvania House of Representatives Democratic Policy Committee addressed COVID-19 testing challenges throughout the Commonwealth. 

The State Department of Health’s COVID-19 Response Director, Dr. Wendy Braund, said the average turnaround time for results from out-of-state laboratories is concerning.

“Our lab, the state lab in Exton, has maintained a turnaround time of 24 to 48 hours. We do know, however, that with the large national labs that many of our testing entities contract with, it can take as much as 14 days,” said Dr. Braund.

Some democratic lawmakers question the value of any test that does not have a result within three days, let alone two weeks.

“Do we even both to contract trace at that point?” asked State. Rep. Steve McCarter, who represents Montgomery County.

Meanwhile, assisted living and personal care providers are struggling to meet a statewide testing mandate by the August 31 deadline.

“I fear for assisted living communities and personal care homes. I do not think that we are on track for every one of the 1,200 assisted living and personal care homes to get their staff and residents tested,” said Zach Shamberg, president and CEO of the Pennsylvania Health Care Association (PHCA).

Limited funding continues to create uphill battles for long-term care facilities. On May 29, Governor Tom Wolf signed a bill into law that established a framework to protect seniors living in a long term care nursing facility, a personal care home and an assisted living residence.

Tied to that bill was $175 million in funding that the state received from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services or Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

It was meant to help long-term care facilities expand their testing capabilities. Shamberg said providers across the state are still waiting for that funding.

“We sent a letter to the governor and his administration a little more than two weeks ago to ask where those funds are and why they haven’t been sent to long-term care providers,” explained Shamberg. “Again, that funding is desperately needed and it’s needed today.”

According to the Governor's Office, the $175 million in CARES Act funding was appropriated for the Regional Health Collaboratives. The collaboratives work with the long-term care facilities to support their testing efforts and other needs in fighting COVID-19.

No actual funds are required to go to facilities, according to a representative from the Governor’s Office, but rather to the collaboratives supporting the facilities.

Dr. Braund said the state is working to increase their laboratory workforce, open up more testing sites and make sure they have the laboratory materials that they need.

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