COVID cases have re-surged this summer in many regions of the US. New omicron variants are largely the cause of new waves of infection, fueled by increased summer travel and relaxed mask requirements. “Customers are telling us they’ve been ramping back up since May 2022 to handle more COVID testing,” says Robert Benz, marketing manager for HORIZON, now also part of Clinisys. The CDC COVID data tracker shows a steady rise in reported cases starting in the middle of March 2022.
Mark Nickle, Laboratory Director at MD Toxicology Group in San Antonio, TX said, “Things started ramping up for us this past May and then shot up during the third week of June. In 2021, the big uptick was in August, but this summer’s peak infections started much sooner and will be here through the fall, at least here in the South.” Nickle indicated that his lab’s current COVID demand is for exposure testing and testing of asymptomatic cases.
For laboratories, the ups and downs in testing demand causes new problems. “This surge comes right after the lowest COVID laboratory testing levels in two years,” explains Benz. “Mainly, labs are challenged with how to best adjust staff and resources to meet fluctuating demand levels.” This summer’s early rise in COVID testing follows first quarter 2022 headline news that year-to-year revenues were down for national laboratories in the US. Quest reported a 27.6% year-to-year decrease in first-quarter revenue from COVID-19 testing. Labcorp reported a similar 6.3% year-to-year revenue decline due to a 9.8% decline in COVID-19 PCR and antibody testing in that same period.
Though US laboratories received a huge influx of COVID tests during the omicron surge in January and February 2022, the overall laboratory COVID test volumes were still significantly lower than a year prior. In the intervening year, businesses and schools have mostly stopped their testing programs, and Americans have shifted to using widely available in-home test kits. Lower demand levels overall for COVID laboratory testing services should come as a welcome break for overworked, understaffed US labs, but laboratories are still left to juggle resources in the absence of steady demand levels, coupled with the need to remain poised for new outbreaks and new variants. Meanwhile, world health leaders are becoming increasingly concerned about the spread of monkeypox. Watch for our next blog on what monkeypox could mean for US laboratories.