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DHEC addresses data processing issue, says testing delays caused by private lab are resolved

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Published: Jan. 26, 2022 at 8:51 PM EST
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) -The South Carolina Department of Health and Environment 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 that stemmed from a large volume of testing data being funneled into a single software system.

“The long upload times of these very large data files created a backlog that could not be accelerated any, nor could those data files that were waiting to be uploaded, they could not be analyzed and responsibly vetted,” Dr. Brannon Traxler, DHEC’s Public Health Director, said during a briefing Wednesday.

DHEC explained that while electronic reporting from labs and healthcare providers is preferred, not all labs are able to electronically transfer the results into its system. Some submit spreadsheets to DHEC that must then be uploaded to the reporting system.

Agency staff has been working 24 hours a day to resolve the issue, and develop a permanent fix to prevent future delays, Traxler said.

While DHEC released new case numbers on Wednesday, one piece of data is missing.

“We are not yet able to release the percent positivity values since we are still importing all of those days’ worth of negative results into our system,” Traxler said. “We expect to begin reporting those values in the coming days.”

In addition to the processing issue, DHEC singled out Premier Medical Laboratory Services, one of its private contracted testing providers, last week for not meeting contractual obligations to provide test results within the standard window.

Joseph Rudy of Columbia waited 10 days for test results. Because of this, and for peace of mind, he picked up a rapid test from the Richland County Health Department on Wednesday.

DHEC began distributing the 140,000 at-home rapid antigen tests it received to health departments across the state this week.

“It’s great to have it rapid because those ten days are days that I’m out of work, that I wasn’t able to go in and make money,” Rudy said. “So being able to go home, get the rapid test just to make sure that I have it or if I don’t, means I can go to work or I can make sure I stay home and quarantine like I should.”

DHEC says South Carolinians should expect turnaround times for test results to return to the 48-72 hour window going forward because its issue with Premier has been resolved.

“Premier Medical lab has reported to us that they are caught up on their backlogged tests, and have returned to their contractually obligated turnaround time,” Traxler said. “We have worked diligently with this lab to make it happen and we very much appreciate their efforts, as well as the patience of all of those people who were impacted by the delays.”

Despite high case counts, Traxler says labs were expected to meet all demands.

“I do not believe that the contract had any caveats for the level of spread or the number of cases that were occurring in the community,” Traxler said. “So yes, we would expect that our contractors would be able to flex up and down basically to accommodate the need.”

When asked under what conditions DHEC would break a contract with one of these private labs, Traxler said that gets into a legal realm that is not her forte.

She did, however, say that DHEC is continuing to make sure the labs understand that delays like the ones experienced from Premier are unacceptable.

“We will not continue to partner with them if things are not resolved in a satisfactory manner and in a satisfactory timeframe,” Traxler said.

The 140,000 rapid tests received by DHEC this week are just a fraction of the 2 million that they ordered from vendors. They expect to continue receiving tests incrementally over the next several weeks.

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