MECKLENBURG COUNTY, N.C. — COVID-19 testing turnaround times are increasing in Mecklenburg County.
“Our testing system is already strained due to increased cold/flu symptoms. Results are averaging 3 to 4 days," Mecklenburg County Public Health said in a statement to WCNC. "Based on the increase in cases we have seen from the Thanksgiving holiday we are strongly recommending that people do not travel and restrict their gatherings to immediate family for the Christmas and New Year holidays.”
Around Thanksgiving, testing turnaround times in Mecklenburg County were averaging around two to three days.
Dr. Ryan Shelton, with Tryon Medical Partners, said the turnaround time for most tests within Tryon Medical Partners is typically around 30 hours.
Shelton said lately, the medical practice is seeing more symptomatic people who need tests.
"It's come to the point that we, basically, are only able to test symptomatic or close contacts, like within the same household of someone who is symptomatic or COVID-positive,” he said.
North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper and Secretary of the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services Dr. Mandy Cohen urged the public at a news conference Tuesday to get tested before seeing loved ones over the holidays.
"If you have to gather in person, try to get tested first,” Cooper said. “Do it outdoors. Limit the number of people, and wear a mask."
Shelton said there are several options for people wanting to get tested before the holidays, but it may take some time and research to find a testing site that can get results back quickly.
"We're really not able to do pre-travel asymptomatic testing just so people can know before they travel,” Shelton said. “That would be ideal, but we have very few slots for that."
Dr. Katie Passaretti, medical director of infection prevention at Atrium Health, said the highest risk patients are the priority for test results, which usually take about 48 hours.
Passaretti said it could take a little longer for those wanting assurance tests before the holidays due to overflow testing being sent to commercial labs.
"It's most important to test the symptomatic people, and you know, those at highest risk, but right now we are able to meet those demands,” Passaretti said. “Just know that the ones that are getting sent to the commercial labs are the ones that are, you know, less urgently needed answers."
Even if people do get test results back before the holidays, Cohen said, “testing is not a free pass.”
Passaretti said the number one message is still not to travel and not to have gatherings with people outside of your direct household.
"The best thing you can do is, you know, the answer we don't want to hear is stay home this holiday,” Passaretti said. "And make sure you're doing the masking, washing your hands, and keeping that social distance."