DHEC Resolves Data Processing Issue, Says Testing Delays Caused by Private Lab Resolved
COLUMBIA, South Carolina (WIS) –South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control reported its first COVID-19 cases of the week on Wednesday, showing a new record number of cases.
The agency attributed the delay to a processing issue resulting from a large volume of test data funneled into a single software system.
“The long delays in downloading these very large data files created a backlog that could not be expedited, nor could the data files waiting to be downloaded they be responsibly analyzed and audited” , said Dr. Brannon Traxler, DHEC Public. director of health, said during a briefing on Wednesday.
DHEC explained that while electronic reporting from labs and healthcare providers is preferred, not all labs are able to electronically transfer results into its system. Some submit spreadsheets to DHEC which must then be uploaded into the reporting system.
Agency staff have been working around the clock to resolve the issue and develop a permanent solution to avoid future delays, Traxler said.
While the DHEC published new case numbers on Wednesday, one piece of data is missing.
“We’re not able to release the percent positivity values yet because we’re still importing all those days of negative results into our system,” Traxler said. “We expect to start reporting these values in the coming days.”
In addition to the processing problem, The DHEC distinguished Premier Medical Laboratory Services, one of its private contracted test providers last week for failing to meet contractual obligations to provide test results within the standard window.
Columbia’s Joseph Rudy waited 10 days for test results. For that reason, and for peace of mind, he took a quick test with the Richland County Health Department on Wednesday.
DHEC has started distributing the 140,000 rapid home antigen tests he received statewide health services this week.
“It’s great to have things fast because those ten days are days where I’ve been out of work, where I haven’t been able to come in and make any money,” Rudy said. “So being able to go home, take the rapid test just to make sure I have it or if I don’t, means I can go to work or I can make sure I stay home and to quarantine myself as I should.”
DHEC says South Carolinians should expect turnaround times for test results to return to the 48-72 hour window in the future as its issue with Premier has been resolved.
“Premier Medical has reported to us that they are caught up with their pending tests and have returned to their contractually obligated turnaround time,” Traxler said. “We have worked diligently with this lab to make this happen and we very much appreciate their efforts, as well as the patience of everyone who has been impacted by the delays.”
Despite the high number of cases, Traxler says labs had to respond to all requests.
“I don’t think the contract had any caveats about the level of spread or the number of cases occurring in the community,” Traxler said. “So yes, we would expect our contractors to be able to scale top-down to meet needs.”
When asked under what conditions DHEC would break a contract with one of these private labs, Traxler said this is in a legal area that is not its forte.
She said, however, that DHEC continues to make sure labs understand that delays like those experienced by Premier are unacceptable.
“We will not continue to partner with them unless things are resolved satisfactorily and in a timely manner,” Traxler said.
The 140,000 rapid tests received by DHEC this week are just a fraction of the 2 million they have ordered from suppliers. They expect to continue to receive tests gradually over the coming weeks.
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