By Stephanie Stahl

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Concerns are growing over the lack of available tests. Health officials say it’s the only way to know how many people are sick and how much the virus is spreading.

Officials say there are still not enough tests for the millions of Americans who need to be screened for COVID-19. In the Philadelphia region, thousands of coronavirus tests are being done everyday, but it’s not enough.

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Testing is needed to figure out who’s infected and contagious. It’s the only way to gauge how much the virus has spread and to know when it’s safe to lift restrictions.

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There’s growing frustration about the lack of availability.

“We’re limited by the number of swabs that are available to collect the sample,” Philadelphia Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas Farley said. “We’re limited by the number of tests that a laboratory can do. Laboratories need chemicals called reagents in order to run these tests and there are only so many available.”

There are also delays with testing results, and that’s if you’re lucky enough to get a test.

Searcy Farrell says she was denied a test five times as her symptoms got worse, even after her doctor recommended one.

She’s worried about her mom, who is immunocompromised.

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“If my mom wakes up and she can’t breathe, and I need to rush her to the emergency room, I need to be able to tell them I’m COVID positive,” Farrell said.

According to the COVID Tracking Project, more than 3.2 million tests have been run in the United States. That covers less than 1% of the country and it falls short of what experts say is needed to reopen America.

“We were not ready for such a big, big deal as this pandemic has become,” said Dr. David Skorton, president and CEO of the Association of American Medical Colleges.


Dr. Skorton added the federal government needs to do more.

“It’s frustrating for all of us,” Dr. Farley said.

There are also concerns about the accuracy of testing, especially with false negatives. There are no estimates of how many there might be, but an inaccurate negative test is dangerous.

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People would think they’re not infectious, when they actually could be.

Stephanie Stahl