Surge in Coronavirus Cases Leaves Labs Overwhelmed, Tests Delayed
Five months into the pandemic after over 140,000 Americans have died from COVID-19, the nation still faces a serious delay in testing as cases surge across the country. That delay, as labs are overwhelmed and hard-hit areas face shortages of tests, could cover up a persistent rises in case numbers and could muddy strategies to combat the coronavirus, as health officials continue to find themselves one step behind the virus's rapid and often silent spread, experts said, as The New York Times reported.
Labs across the country are now facing what seems like an almost "infinite" demand, one expert says.
"We really do need to improve our turnaround times, primarily in areas and counties of outbreaks," Adm. Brett Giroir, a White House coronavirus task force member, said, as CNN reported.
Diagnostic labs are feeling the effects of the spike in cases, with a leading commercial lab saying testing results can now take up to two weeks for some patients, leaving doctors and patients feeling anxious about their results.
"The average test delay is too long," Dr. Francis Collins, the director of the National Institutes of Health, said Sunday on NBC's Meet the Press, as CNN reported "And that really undercuts the value of the testing, because you do the testing to find out who's carrying the virus and then quickly get them isolated so they don't spread it around."
As USA TODAY noted, labs are performing more COVID-19 tests than ever. Lab workers are strained and states are bidding against one another for the same, limited supplies.
"It's the Wild, Wild West," said Blair Holladay, CEO of American Society for Clinical Pathology, to USA TODAY. "There's been no national testing strategy ... so states are duking it out for supply chains. That's a problem."
Last week, labs reached an all-time high of more than 831,900 COVID tests, according to the COVID Tracking Project. Yet, that expansion in tests has created bottlenecks and slowed results for many Americans.
Quest Diagnostics said in a news release that average turnaround time for non-priority patients was seven days or more, according to USA TODAY. However, patients in hospitals, people preparing for acute surgery, and health care workers with symptoms are able to get results within a day.
"We've gone way backwards" in testing, said former New York health commissioner Nirav Shah, as USA TODAY reported. According to Shah, a senior scholar at Stanford University's Center for Clinical Excellence, the delay in results makes many of the tests irrelevant and increases the virus' spread.
Most patient samples must still be routed through laboratories for processing, and the growing demand is once again straining supplies, equipment, and trained technicians, which all causes shortages and delayed results, according to The New York Times.
"It's very important for people to be able to get the results in time, so they don't continue infecting people," said Pamela Martinez, an expert in disease dynamics at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, to The New York Times. She noted that it's particularly important for asymptomatic people to know if they are carrying the virus. "Maybe if I take a test, but I don't have many symptoms, I'm not going to take the same precautions," she added.
If people have to wait one week or more for their test results, a negative result can give a false sense of security. Diagnostic testing searches for bits of the coronavirus' genetic material. It can only assess a person's health status from the time the sample was taken, and can't account for any subsequent exposures to the virus, of course, as noted by The New York Times.
Since the delays are widespread and people are reluctant to enter a risky situation unnecessarily, people who are not showing any symptoms of coronavirus are less likely to seek a test, which skews the numbers and gives an inaccurate picture of its spread.
In an ideal world, far more community testing would occur to catch some of these more silent cases. "That would give us more of an idea of how this disease is actually playing out," said Olivia Prosper, an infectious disease modeler at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, to The New York Times.
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By Naomi Larsson
For centuries, the delicate silver dove has been a symbol of love and fidelity.
Biodiversity and Habitat Loss<p>Their near extinction is a symbol of the <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/global-biodiversity-outlook-targets-extinction-summit-new-york-pledge/a-54932895" target="_blank">biodiversity crisis</a> in the UK, largely driven by habitat destruction. Britain is now one of the countries with the most <a href="https://www.wwf.org.uk/future-of-UK-nature#:~:text=The%20UK%20is%20one%20of,than%20half%20are%20in%20decline" target="_blank">depleted nature</a> in the world according to the World Wildlife Fund. Half its plant and animal species are in decline and more than <a href="https://www.rspb.org.uk/about-the-rspb/about-us/media-centre/press-releases/let-nature-sing-wales/#:~:text=a%20natural%20tragedy.-,Over%2040%20million%20birds%20have%20vanished%20from%20UK%20skies%20in,unaware%20of%20the%20impending%20danger" target="_blank">40 million birds</a> have vanished in just half a century.</p><p>"[Turtle doves] are the canary in the [coal] mine because there are all these other species before it and after it," said Tree. "It's an umbrella for all the other species that are heading that way."</p><p>Turtle doves migrate south through Europe to sub-Saharan Africa between July and September, ending up in dry woodland and farmland areas of countries like Mali and Senegal for winter. </p><p>Droughts in West Africa and the Sahel region are believed to have contributed to the fall in turtle dove species recorded in northern Europe, with low rainfall reducing supplies of the seeds and insects the birds rely on for energy for the long journey home.</p>
Conservation and Farming<p><a href="https://www.operationturtledove.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Operation Turtle Dove,</a> a partnership project of charities including the Essex Wildlife trust, works with landowners and farmers to actively build turtle dove habitat.</p><p>Outten works with <a href="https://www.ebws.org.uk/birdsites/blue-house-farm-ewt-north-fambridge" target="_blank">Blue House Farm</a>, a 660-acre nature reserve in the UK county of Essex, where they have replicated weedy fallow plots. </p><p>"We work on it every year to make sure it's in the condition it needs to be with plants such as clovers and black medic," Outten said. "These plants are native to the landscape and produce the seed the birds feed on." </p><p>The birds eat a wide range of seeds from various plants that would have been abundant 50 or 100 years ago, added Guy Anderson, program manager for species recovery with The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB). </p><p>"But it's simply true that with the gradual process of <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/farming-without-pesticides-how-can-we-make-agriculture-greener/a-52216796" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">intensifying our agricultural production</a>, the availability of those seeds has dropped and dropped," said Anderson.</p><p>Part of the project includes supplementary feeding — providing sources of food in the form of seed or grain. Under the Countryside Stewardship Scheme in England, farmers can receive financial support to create a turtle dove habitat. </p><p>Though they haven't recorded an increase in doves across the sites in the four years of working on the project, Outten said they are seeing improvements in how landowners and farmers manage habitat for the birds. </p>
A Turtle Dove Haven<p>The 3,500-acre Knepp Estate in West Sussex is another project taking a different approach and one of the few places where turtle dove numbers are increasing.</p><p>Isabella Tree and her husband Charlie Burrell converted their intensively farmed land into a rewilding project almost 20 years ago. They have let the land return to nature.</p><p>Just one year after they'd finished <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/uks-most-talented-architects-are-not-human/a-35952128" target="_blank">rewilding</a> the southern part of their property, they heard turtle doves for the first time. It's now a breeding hotspot for the birds with an estimated 19 pairs. Knepp is also home to <a href="https://www.rewildingbritain.org.uk/rewilding/rewilding-projects/knepp-estate" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">2% of the UK's population</a> of nightingales. </p><p>Tree is critical of supplementary feeding schemes that, in her view, are short term. She questions the chances of turtle doves getting to feed on scattered seeds before other mammals eat them first.</p>
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By Jessica Corbett
Green groups applauded Sen. Jeff Merkley on Wednesday for introducing a pioneering pair of bills that aim to "protect the long-term health and well-being of the American people and their economy from the catastrophic effects of climate chaos" by preventing banks and international financial institutions from financing fossil fuels.