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Arizona testing sites, labs seeing record number of cases as omicron variant rages across the state

Embry Health expects to collect 40,000 samples across the state in a single day as Sonora Quest Laboratories sees more than 50% of symptomatic patients test positive

PHOENIX — Health officials said the number of positive COVID-19 cases across the state is soaring, creating a high demand for testing and forcing thousands to wait in long lines across the Valley. 

Embry Health sites have seen a constant stream of cars lined up for tests. Raymond Embry, the CEO and co-founder of the TestNOW program, expects more than 40,000 samples to be collected on Tuesday. 

“It looks like we’re well on our way to potentially get into 50% positivity," said Embry. "That’s matching with the exponential spread of the virus. We saw that before New Year’s and it's continuing on.” 

Embry sites are reporting a positivity rate of 38% which is well above the standard threshold of 5% set by the World Health Organization (WHO) in May of 2020. 

Context is everything and Arizona is blowing standards to pieces

In May 2020, WHO officials suggested to governments that before reopening, the percent positivity - (tests conducted and how many yield a positive result) should remain at 5% or lower for at least 14 days. 

According to the Arizona Department of Health Services, the current positivity rate is 10.6%, however, that percentage of positive diagnostic tests is reported electronically. 

Embry Health has seen a percent positivity nearly four times that with turnaround times for PCR tests falling between one and three days. 

“We started working with multiple laboratories, that way we are not dependent on any one lab,” Embry said. 

One of those labs is Sonora Quest Laboratories

RELATED: Sonora Quest bolstering COVID-19 test operations in Arizona

Asymptomatic vs. symptomatic patients, both are testing positive at an alarming rate  

Inside Sonora Quest laboratories, teams are working in three shifts around the clock to combat the current surge of COVID-19. 

“Several weeks ago we were at 7,000 to 8,000 specimens a day, and now we've been as high as 30,000," said Tom Leggett, Sonora Quest director of business development. 

The lab has yielded concerning numbers in the previous two weeks climbing from 24.6% in December to 40.5% nearly two weeks into the new year. 

“The specimen comes in, it’s entered into our system; then it’s triage to the appropriate section where the molecular technician then takes it and processes it,” Leggett said. 

Labs have processed 105,114 asymptomatic specimens finding 29.4% of them tested positive for COVID-19. Out of the 68,265 specimens experiencing symptoms, the positivity rate soared to 51.3%. 

“Testing is important because we have therapies that can help individuals," said Leggett. "If you’re found to be positive you can quarantine and keep others around you safe.” 

Sonora Quest said the average turnaround for results is 1.31 days.   

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