Most U.S. coronavirus tests are a “complete waste” because it takes so long to get results in time for people to self-isolate once they find out they have the virus, billionaire philanthropist Bill Gates told CNBC.
President Donald Trump has touted the increase in U.S. testing capacity, even calling the country the “envy of the world” for how many tests it runs every day. However, the turnaround time of many of those tests, and arguably the most important kinds of tests, has gotten so long that many health officials have said they are unhelpful when it comes to stopping the outbreaks across the country.
“The simplest thing, which has to do with such insanity, is you should not reimburse somebody for getting a test that it takes more than 48 hours to get the result back,” Gates said in an interview that aired Tuesday on “Squawk Box.” “That test is a complete waste. And to all these numbers about how much we test, the majority is just complete waste.”
Labs across the nation are falling behind in processing and delivering test results as a surge in coronavirus cases across the Sun Belt strains their systems. The turnaround time for Covid-19 tests can take several days to a week or longer for many patients, two of the country’s biggest lab diagnostics companies said earlier this month.
“Right now, this thing where you wait more than three days, sometimes seven days to get a test, nobody should pay $1 for that. That’s insane,” Gates told Andrew Ross Sorkin in Monday″s interview. “You need to get it back as soon as possible so that somebody can change their behavior, so they’re not infecting other people.”
The average time to receive results is now more than two days for top priority patients, which include hospital patients, some pre-operative patients and symptomatic health-care workers, Quest Diagnostics said late Monday. The company added that for all others, testing turnaround time is more than seven days.
“You need to prioritize. You need to make sure that low-income communities that are most at risk, that they’re getting those results back within 24 hours,” said Gates, the Microsoft co-founder and co-chair of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.