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It’s taking longer to get coronavirus test results. That’s a problem

July 15, 2020, 6:05 PM UTC

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Have you had issues with getting a coronavirus test result back? From anecdotal evidence, I’ve certainly seen a number of people complaining it can take close to two weeks to get their COVID data as cases surge across the U.S.

But it’s not just a few special cases, as it turns out. One of the country’s laboratory giants, Quest Diagnostics, admits that it can take seven or more days on average for the firm to deliver a coronavirus test result if you’re not a priority patient. And Quest isn’t alone in its demand constraints.

“[W]e want patients and health care providers to know that we will not be in a position to reduce our turnaround times as long as cases of COVID-19 continue to increase dramatically across much of the United States,” wrote Quest in a statement. “This is not just a Quest issue. The surge in COVID-19 cases affects the laboratory industry as a whole.”

There’s a whole chain of events that have brought us to this point (and, to be clear, if you’re a priority patient, such as a health care worker who shows symptoms or someone who’s severely sick in a hospital, the turnaround is much faster).

I think of it as something like a set of falling dominoes where the dominoes are in an infinite loop. It’s a vicious cycle between a lack of coordination among federal, state, and local governments, limited supplies, limited workforces, and mixed messages on the enforcement of public safety measures such as wearing masks.

But what’s truly worrisome is the ripple effects of this cycle. A delayed response on a test makes it more difficult to take precautionary measures, which could in turn lead to more infections since so many people may be asymptomatic; a surge in cases puts constraints across the industry on everything from basic materials such as swabs and reagents to the technicians who can conduct the analysis.

How can we address this technical and supply chain nightmare? I’ll have some more on that for you soon.

In the meantime, read on for the day’s news.

Sy Mukherjee
sayak.mukherjee@fortune.com
@the_sy_guy

DIGITAL HEALTH

This startup has a wearable that measures blood sugar levels without a needle. Upstart digital health company Movano has acquired $10 million in funding (and $27 million total) as it develops a new kind of continuous blood glucose monitor. Movano is creating a watch-like device (although in preliminary development stages) which uses radio frequency rather than a blood finger prick or a patch with a needle in order to monitor glucose levels. In theory, it would be a painless wearable device that's less cumbersome than existing technologies.

INDICATIONS

Moderna shares rise once again on early COVID vaccine data. Shares of startup Moderna rose 5.5% in Wednesday trading after the company unveiled more information about its early-stage trial for a coronavirus vaccine candidate called mRNA-1273. All treated patients produced high levels of so-called neutralizing antibodies (the type that are most likely to ward off infection). That's encouraging; but caveats abound. For one thing, the highest levels of antibodies were produced after two administrations of the shot. Furthermore, many patients experienced adverse events such as fever, muscle pain, headache, and fatigue, and the sample size was relatively small. Experts said the results were still good news, but there's still a lot more we need to know. (Fortune)

Biogen, Eisai launch new late-stage trial for Alzheimer's drug. Drug giant Biogen and partner Eisai announced they've begun a new phase 3 trial of the experimental Alzheimer's treatment BAN2401. The companies have made a major gamble on this therapy, which was submitted for FDA consideration last week. The latest study will test the drug in patients who have preclinical, and thus asymptomatic, Alzheimer's. You might be wondering what asymptomatic Alzheimer's entails. In essence, it's people who have elevated levels of beta amyloid, a plaque whose buildup in the brain is indicative of the disease, even if they haven't shown physical or mental symptoms. The hope would be that earlier treatment can stop those symptoms from actually manifesting. (PharmaPhorum)

THE BIG PICTURE

Retailers unite on mask requirements. Walmart, Sam's Club, Best Buy, and other big retailers have now reached a consensus on a national face mask policy across their stores. And retail's largest trade organization, the National Retail Federation, is hoping that the titans of the industry will spark others to follow their example. "Shopping in a store is a privilege, not a right," the trade group said in a statement. "If a customer refuses to adhere to store policies, they are putting employees and other customers at undue risk."(NPR)

REQUIRED READING

What the prediction markets say about a COVID vaccineby Jeremy Kahn

The death of distanceby Alan Murray

How chatbots are helping in the fight against COVID-19by Jonathan Vanian

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