SUBSTANTIAL NUMBERS OF NEW COVID-19 CASES CONTINUE to be reported weekly. No one yet understands whether SARS-CoV-2 may disappear at some future date (as did the 1918 influenza pandemic and SARS outbreak in 2003) or whether SARS-CoV-2 will become endemic and stay with us for years.
Meanwhile, the next influenza season has commenced. Since Oct. 1— considered the start of the annual fall/winter flu season—data posted by the federal Centers for Disease Prevention and Control (CDC) show that clinical laboratories are reporting about 50 positive flu tests per week for the entire nation. Were those statistics to continue into the winter, it would be the second year in a row where the incidence of influenza stayed considerably below the historical experience in this country.
Clinical laboratories have a major stake in following the number of new cases of both types of respiratory viruses. They are the front line of diagnostic testing. It is essential that they have enough testing supplies and staffing to meet future demand for COVID-19 and influenza tests. This is equally true of the in vitro diagnostics (IVD) industry. These companies must supply adequate quantities of collection supplies, transport media, primers, and test kits to support influenza and COVID-19 testing by their clinical laboratory customers.
The additional wild card in this deck is the supply chain. The 200 container ships moored offshore from the Los Angeles and Long Beach harbor complex must wait weeks to unload. Manufacturers and distributors of clinical lab supplies and kits are scrambling to keep their inventories stocked to levels that allow them to meet the demands of their clinical laboratory customers.
For all the players in the clinical laboratory industry, this is a high-stress time without any precedent in the history of modern medicine. Medical labs are uncertain about the demand for COVID-19 and influenza tests at the same time that IVD companies and distributors cannot confidently manage their own supply lines to ensure an adequate flow of product to their lab customers.
If there’s good news in all of this, it’s that most physicians, hospitals, and other providers are seeing a more regular flow of patients. In turn, that means a steady stream of lab test referrals to clinical labs and pathology groups, helping them bolster their finances during these unpredictable times.