COVID-19 testing

Lab Backlog Forces Waterbury Pharmacy to Cancel 700 COVID Test Appointments

NBC Universal, Inc.

Park Pharmacy in Waterbury has canceled more than 700 COVID-19 PCR test appointments because the lab that processes them doesn’t have enough workers to keep up with the demand right now.

“Everywhere we go they’re saying they don’t have it or they’re booked and we can’t get a COVID test,” said Arthur Sinclair of Waterbury.

Wednesday, Sinclair said he’d been searching for a COVID test appointment for his 27-year-old son for four days.

“He’s unable to work.  He’s very sick,” said Sinclair.

He planned to get his son tested at Park Pharmacy on East Main Street in Waterbury, which has performed 4,000 COVID tests since early December.

However, pharmacist Mitual Patel said all PCR COVID tests were canceled for the week beginning on Wednesday, 700 in all, after the laboratory Park Pharmacy uses announced it would not accept any new tests until Monday, January 10.

Patel said the problem lies in the fact that there are too many tests to process and not enough people to process them due to COVID-related staffing shortages at the lab.

 “They were trying to keep up with the flow but there’s just so much demand,” said Patel.

A spokesperson for QDX Pathology Services, the New Jersey laboratory responsible for processing Park Pharmacy’s PCR tests, confirmed to NBC Connecticut that it notified its clients yesterday that it would stop accepting specimens in order to clear the backlog of tests waiting to be processed.

Patel said the demand for PCR COVID-19 tests started in the weeks leading up to Christmas. The turnaround time to get results was originally 24 to 48 hours but grew to 72 hours closer to the holiday.  Now, Patel says people are waiting up to five days to find out if they’ve tested positive or negative.

“Now, we’re getting flooded with calls asking for results,” said Patel.

The demand is hitting Branford-based Wren Laboratories, too. 

“From our point of view, our testing has gone up ten-fold,” said Dr. Mark Kidd, the company’s scientific and laboratory director.

Kidd said they’ve had a few COVID-related absences as well and even shut down two days to give employees a break, adding that high demand for tests is industrywide and nationwide.

“It’s something that we’re all experiencing at the moment,” said Kidd. “We’ve had so many people, drive-ins, coming for testing that we’ve had to turn people away.  It’s not because we want to. It’s because there’s a limit.”

He said his employees worked long hours to catch up on the holiday backlog of tests.

While Patel continued to perform rapid tests in Park Pharmacy’s parking lot Wednesday, he said PCR tests, which many employers require to return to work, won’t resume until Monday.

“The only thing I can say is you gotta go elsewhere,” said Patel.

The city of Waterbury's Covid testing site usually opens at 8:30 but didn't open until noon on Wednesday because of icy weather, leading many people to be turned away.

Eduardo Ortiz arrived at Waterbury’s city testing site at the Brass Mill Center at 11 a.m. and was placed in an overflow parking lot.

He said he was told he might not even get through the line, which started forming at four a.m.

“You could be waiting here five-six hours but if it comes time to shut down they’re just gonna send you away.  That’s ridiculous.  That’s just not right,” said Ortiz. “I’m trying to get this done as soon as possible because I have to get back to work.”

Ortiz said he came to the same spot last November with his son and was able to get in without a wait.  On Wednesday, he said he was turned away at 2:45 p.m., after nearly four hours of waiting in his car.

“You come down here.  You try to do the right thing and after waiting forever they’re gonna send you home.  And then you gotta do the same thing tomorrow,” said Ortiz.

He said he later got tested at the municipal stadium instead.