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HHS Inspector General Finds Severe Supply Shortages, Long Waits for SARS-CoV-2 Tests in Hospitals

NEW YORK – The US Department of Health and Human Services' Office of Inspector General released a report Monday detailing survey results from US hospitals that found severe shortages of SARS-CoV-2 testing supplies and long wait times for test results.

The agency surveyed a random sample of 323 hospitals across 46 states, Washington, DC, and Puerto Rico from March 23 to March 27, and found hospitals reporting a lack of complete test kits, as well as a lack of the individual parts for the tests, including nasal swabs, viral transfer media, and reagents. Some of the hospitals surveyed said they were dividing the transfer media from each SARS-CoV-2 kit in half to double capacity or using transfer media in flu and strep kits to provide testing. The US Food and Drug Administration recently expanded guidance allowing additional viral transport media and swab materials that can be used for SARS-CoV-2 testing.  

Supply shortages have also led to prioritized testing for patients with more severe symptoms and healthcare workers, with many hospitals saying they were unable to test community members to stop the spread of the virus.

Hospitals also reported waiting at least seven days for results, due to reliance on external laboratories, infrequent specimen pickups, mailing delays, and restrictive business hours of labs. Inconsistent turnaround times were also noted, which hospitals said made it hard to predict when results would come in and advise patients on how long to self-quarantine. The long wait for results reduced bed availability in the facilities and strained supplies of personal protective equipment for staff, the hospitals said.

OIG asked the hospitals about challenges in responding to SARS-CoV-2, strategies they were using to address the challenges, and what the government could do to best support hospitals. Hospitals requested the government ensure access to test kits and swabs and make tests faster by allowing more organizations to conduct and produce tests.