When Keith Jefferies of Sherman Oaks needed a COVID test on Jan. 5, he pulled into a site on Chandler Boulevard with a sign that said "Free COVID Tests."
Three weeks later, he was still waiting for his results from the lab supposedly processing the tests--Genstar Labs.
"Part of me feels like I got violated, part of me feels like they just didn’t know what they were doing, maybe it's a mistake," Jefferies told the I-Team.
Public health experts tell the NBC4 I-Team that labs should give you test results in 24-48 hours, so that if you test positive you can seek immediate medical care. But data from the California Department of Public Health (CDPH), examined by the I-Team, shows only 68 percent of all COVID tests are being turned around within two days, a big drop from recent weeks.
"Actually, right now, the test turnaround time is not getting any better. And it looks like it may actually be getting worse," says Dr. Jeffrey Klausner of USC's Keck School of Medicine, who is also a consultant to Curative, which runs numerous testing labs.
Curative's track record of delivering test results to customers within 1-2 days dropped by 38%, according to the most recent data from the CDPH.
The state’s data shows other major labs are doing even worse, including LabCorp, which is turning around only 21% of COVID tests within two days.
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Dr. Klausner says the slowdown is linked to lab employees are calling in sick because of COVID, and also that schools and businesses are requiring more frequent testing.
"The demand for testing has increased dramatically," says Klausner. "A lot of industries, like the entertainment industry, now routinely test people on sets or on shoots every day or every other day. There’s just a lot of testing."
Case in point: Seismic Productions, a company that produces trailers for many of Hollywood's biggest movies.
Seismic's co-owner, David Schneiderman, now provides testing twice a week for his 40 employees, up from once a week testing before the Omicron surge.
"It makes for a safer work environment when I test twice a week," Schneiderman told the I-Team. "We love having people in the office, working together," Schneiderman added.
But the increased amount of testing in Southern California is creating a huge backlog at labs. In mid-December, labs in California were processing about 1.7 million COVID tests a week, according to CDPH data. By early January, they were handling more than 4 million tests per week.
And that backlog of tests is creating problems for people like Keith Jefferies, who is still waiting for his results from three weeks ago.
"I have to see clients, so I want to make sure that I am negative. I don’t want to pass anything on to anybody," said Jefferies, who runs a technical support company.
Only after the I-Team contacted Genstar Labs, did they finally email Jefferies, offering this explanation for his delayed results:
"Your swab was put into an extra sensitive transport media which required more DNA from the swab. That is why your test results did not come through… we would've notified you earlier if not for the current state of emergency and volume," the email said.
The I-Team found that Genstar Labs isn't listed on the state of California's "Turnaround Time Dashboard," which tells consumers how long certified labs take to process COVID tests. Experts say before being tested, you should ask the staff on site which lab will be processing your test, and make sure the lab is listed on the Dashboard, and is turning around 90% or more tests within 24-48 hours.
To access the Dashboard, go here.