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Delay of test results a concern

California lab slow to deliver diagnoses

March 31, 2020 Digital Media Exclusive

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The coronavirus test is taking longer for some than others and both patients and doctors aren't happy about it.

Butler Health System's Dr. Elliot Smith acknowledged the anomaly. Smith is president of the physician groups and the chief quality officer at BHS.

Smith said BHS is awaiting results from 80 tests sent to a Quest Diagnostics lab in California.

“Those tests out in California are stuck in this huge backlog,” he said. “It is trickling day-to-day from that California lab.”

Quest expanded testing sites regionally, including one in Pittsburgh, which has given quicker results to patients tested recently.

“Quest has been really good at getting results since they've been able to roll this out more regionally,” Smith said.

Smith recommends anyone who is waiting on test results from past weeks to contact their health care provider. He said they may get results faster if they are retested with their samples heading to Pittsburgh instead.

“The hospital works very hard to make sure we're fulfilling the needs of the community, including reporting people's test results,” Smith said. “We are however at the mercy of when they get back to do that.”

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Situation at SRU

One person who anxiously awaited test results for more than a week is an SRU student who has been quarantined in their room.

According to David Wilmes, chief student affairs officer for SRU, a student was taken to Butler Memorial Hospital March 21 where they were tested for COVID-19.

The student was one of about 30 students who were approved to stay in their rooms for the remainder of the semester.

Wilmes said these students are international students, students who couldn't afford to travel home or those that couldn't travel home.

“We aren't going to throw anybody out on the street,” Wilmes said.

After the student was tested and evaluated, they were sent back to the university by medical transport and have remained isolated in their room since. SRU's nursing team checks on the student twice a day by telephone and has the student take their own temperature for evaluation.

Food is also left at the student's door, and a special cleaning service has extensively cleaned common areas as a precaution.

Over the past weekend, the university received information that the test was compromised and would not produce valid results.

Wilmes said university staff immediately contacted the state Department of Health which recommended continued isolation.

“We're following the guidance of monitoring symptoms,” Wilmes said. “If she is fever-free for over 72 hours, then the isolation would end, based on what the Department of Health is telling us.”

Wilmes said there is not an immediate concern for the other students staying on campus at this time.

National Doctors Day

As Butler Health System continues to combat the coronavirus pandemic, it recognized its doctors Monday in celebration of National Doctors Day.

“I don't think that there has been a time since major wars that the importance of doctors to our country — and to our community — has been more profound,” said Ken DeFurio, BHS president and CEO.

DeFurio sent his thanks to doctors everywhere, those that work at BHS and beyond.

“It is impossible to put into words today the gratitude we feel for the physicians of Butler Health System,” he said. “I have always admired the rigor, sacrifice and training that takes to become a physician. And it is now, when we need them most, that one realizes how fundamentally essential and critical doctors are to society.”

Butler Health System continues to treat and test patients daily for the coronavirus.

Staff at Butler Memorial Hospital are treating 11 patients, including six suspecting of having COVID-19 and five with confirmed cases.

Four of these 11 patients are being treated in the intensive care unit.

BHS also gave updated information for Clarion Hospital which is treating four patients, three suspected of having COVID-19 and one confirmed case. Two of these patients are being treated in the ICU.

Through Sunday, BHS has tested 920 patients for the virus, with 645 of those tests coming from the BMH outdoor facility. Clarion Hospital has tested 113 patients at their own outdoor facility.

According to BHS spokeswoman Jana Panther, supplies and personal protective equipment remain at adequate levels right now, but the system will continue to accept any donations and offers.

“Email covid19donations@butlerhealthsystem.org to arrange a donation of PPE,” Panther said.

As far as testing supplies, Smith said the hospital is doing well in that regard, too.

BHS continues to prefer nasal swab, but they could also use an oral swab, if needed.

“Going through the nose gets you a better result and it's a little easier on the patient,” Smith said.

Smith said the hospital has continued to meticulously monitor its supplies.


Testing continues to be a topic of discussion nationwide from President Donald Trump to Gov. Tom Wolf to every person that visits BMH's tent on Brady Street.

Companies such as Abbott Laboratories continue to develop newer and faster testing methods.

Over the weekend, Abbott received Emergency Use Authorization by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for its portable ID NOW COVID-19 testing platform.

According to information on Abbott's website, the test can give positive results in as little as five minutes and negative results in 13 minutes.

Smith said other similar tests are in development, and BHS is keeping an eye out for a way to bring that type of testing to its own lab.

“We really need to get this much more timely, so we would absolutely do that if it becomes available,” he said.

Staggering increase in cases in state

Cases in Pennsylvania continue to rise at a staggering pace.

As of noon Monday, the Pennsylvania Department of Health reported 693 additional positive cases of the coronavirus since its last update Sunday, bringing the statewide total to 4,087 — including two new cases in Butler County. The report also said 33,777 patients tested negative for the virus to date.

The county has 49 confirmed cases, according to the state update. Butler County's death toll remained at two. Its largest neighbor to the south, Allegheny County, reports 290 confirmed cases, including two deaths.

The continuous rise in cases has prompted further collaborations and considerations from government officials.

Multiple news reports led people to believe that the Ellwood City Medical Center might reopen to handle noncorona virus patients, alleviating excess burden to medical facilities treating COVID-19 patients.

State Reps. Aaron Bernstine, R-10th, and Joshua Kail, R-15th, held a Facebook news conference Friday addressing a letter that they and other state and national legislators signed calling for Wolf to redistribute assets from the Ellwood City hospital that could help during the pandemic.

In an interview Monday, Bernstine said reopening the medical center seems unlikely.

“Right now, it does not look like the case, but rather the equipment is what may be able to be utilized,” he said.

Bernstine said the supplies could go to hospitals where shortages have impacted their supplies and protective equipment.

“The first thing is whenever you're looking at situations like this is to not make decisions based on emotions,” he said. “To make decisions based on facts.”

Bernstine said he continues to be impressed and humbled by the way politicians have worked on getting people help during this crisis. He said the efforts have transcended the public and private sectors and set aside political affiliations.

“I think it continues to show that not only our community but Western Pa., the entire state and the entire country, the things that we can do when we work together,” Bernstine said. “It separates the Unites States from so many other countries that continue to have political battles.”

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Nathan Bottiger

Nathan Bottiger

Nathan Bottiger graduated with a degree in journalism in 2015 from Pitt-Johnstown. A business reporter, he also covers Slippery Rock borough, township and school district.