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The long turnaround for coronavirus tests leaves travelers, economies in a bind

July 16, 2020, 7:15 PM UTC

This is the web version of The Capsule, a daily newsletter monitoring advances in health care and biopharma. Sign up to get it delivered free to your inbox.

Good afternoon, readers.

Yesterday we wrote about the troubling delays in coronavirus test turnaround that many face. Quest Diagnostics says that for non-priority patients, it can take seven or more days on average to get a COVID test result back due to surging demand and supply constraints.

That has obvious public health ripple effects, such as the potential of infecting other people while waiting for a test result since you’re not sure whether or not you’ve contracted COVID. But a Capsule reader points out another important conundrum.

“You did not mention an economic dimension to the delay in COVID-19 testing: Alaska is requiring arriving visitors to show negative coronavirus test results taken within 72 hours before boarding the airplane. Visitors who cannot show the results are required to quarantine under strict supervision for 14 days, and this is enough to discourage casual visitors,” he writes.

“Hawaii has now decided to start allowing visitor arrivals September 1 on the same basis, 72 hour test. Hawaii depends so heavily on tourism that their reopening is a serious economic issue. Very few tourists are willing to come if they are subject to quarantine.”

He’s right. The Alaskan government states that travelers “who can show proof of a negative test result taken within 72 hours before departure will not have to quarantine” for 14 days. And those who can show a negative test within five days of departure won’t have to quarantine but will have to be re-tested upon arrival. Hawaii has made similar moves.

This presents an obvious dilemma. These states have heavy stakes in the tourism industry. But as our reader points out, “it is not possible for a normal healthy person to get a test within 72 hours. The prices being charged for private tests are prohibitive… Just saying ‘I want to take a trip to Alaska or Hawaii’ does not qualify you for a test.” In fact, in certain states, you’ll be deprioritized from taking a test unless you show active COVID-19 symptoms or meet other prioritization criteria.

So the options are to quarantine for 14 days (which can be a problem depending on a traveler’s itinerary and economic circumstance) or face an uncertain turnaround time for testing before a flight to a state trying to both protect public health while reviving their economies.

Read on for the day’s news.

Sy Mukherjee


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Biotech's largest trade group speaks up for Fauci amid White House row. The CEO of the Biotechnology Innovation Organization (BIO), the industry's largest trade organization, issued a statement supporting infectious disease expert and federal public health official Dr. Anthony Fauci after several White House officials began publicly questioning his judgment and leadership during the ongoing pandemic. "As this global pandemic continues to wreak havoc, we must stand behind the scientists and researchers working tirelessly to eradicate this devastating disease. Nothing is more disheartening or disturbing than to see Dr. Anthony Fauci, a critical leader at a pivotal moment, maligned publicly and attacked personally," said Dr. Michelle McMurry-Heath in a recorded public statement.


COVID-19 data to be transmitted by administration, not CDC. There's some serious confusion brewing about the CDC's role in collecting and transmitting coronavirus data, including the number of hospitalizations across states, after the Trump administration moved to have hospitals send information to a centralized database to the Department of Health and Human Services directly rather than to the CDC. That has some ringing the alarm bells about data transparency as cases surge, although CDC officials have said they still have access to the information generally (the CDC is housed within HHS). As of Thursday afternoon, the CDC's website still appeared to have an updated case count.


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