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Testing backlog plagues Arizona coronavirus scene

Nearly half of Arizona's cases have come in July

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As cases of COVID-19 continue to rise in Arizona, the state is dealing with a backlog of testing. Courtesy Gerri Kelly.

The state of Arizona recently passed 150,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19, with nearly half of them coming in the month of July. On Thursday, July 23, the state passed the grim milestone of 3,000 confirmed deaths with 89 reported that day.

Last week, a document first reported by the nonprofit Center for Public Integrity categorizes states that exceeded 100 new cases per 100,000 residents last week and those that posted had more than 10% positive tests for the virus as being in the "red zone."

Arizona topped both categories, with 349 new cases per 100,000 residents and a diagnostic test positive rate over 21%, according to the document, which was dated July 14. Arizona is one of 17 other states in the "red zone" alongside states such as Alabama, Arkansas and California.

A document prepared for the White House Coronavirus Task Force but not publicized suggests more than a dozen states should revert to more stringent protective measures. Arizona is one of the 18 states in the "red zone." Courtesy image from the Center for Public Integrity.

Sonora Quest, one of the main laboratories in Arizona, has been dealing with a severe backlog of tests recently. As of July 22, the company had over 62,000 pending tests, and the lab typically reports results nine to 12 days after swabbing a patient.

Dr. Cara Christ, current director of the Arizona Department of Health Services, said the backlog should be taken care of by Friday, July 31 and that it "should not be an issue going forward" in a press conference with the governor on July 23.

However, this backlog could mean that tens of thousands of cases within the next week are further delayed from being reported, which has a strong potential to worsen the already poor state Arizona has been in for the entire month of July.

The Centers for Disease Control recommends that "testing practices should aim for rapid turnaround times (e.g., less than 24 hours) in order to facilitate effective interventions." Earlier in July, Gov. Doug Ducey created a new testing program, called "Project Catapult," to help Sonora Quest exponentially increase its processing capacity to 35,000 diagnostic tests per day by the end of July and 60,000 tests per day by the end of August.

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Will Humble, former director of the Arizona Department of Health Services and the current Executive Director for the Arizona Public Health Association, recognizes the importance of dealing with the backlog in a timely manner for the sake of accurate testing results. Humble, in a tweet, said that a failure to properly freeze backlogged specimens can lead to false negatives, thereby skewing the official state's data.

As schools are nearing opening day, a backlog of testing is one of the last things the state needs after being swamped with record-high days of cases and deaths recently. Outside of Arizona, the U.S. as a whole has been setting records with recent days having over 70,000 confirmed cases and over 1,000 confirmed deaths.


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