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Holiday delays plague transit COVID-19 testing sites in San Diego

Demand for COVID-19 testing is skyrocketing.. But across San Diego county most testing turnaround times have been efficient.. County officials say on average labs are completing tests in just under two days, but not everyone is getting their results quickly. KPBS Health Reporter Matt Hoffman spoke with people who have recently encountered issues at transit testing sites.

Some are reporting waiting up to 13 days for COVID test results. The transit testing site operator is apologizing and promising to fix turnaround times.

Demand for COVID-19 testing has been high, but some free testing sites are not measuring up.

Most San Diego County testing turnaround times have been efficient, with results on average completing tests in 1.8 days, but not everyone is getting their results quickly.

Some people have encountered issues at testing sites at San Diego transit stations.

RELATED: Virus testing shortages and delays help fuel surge

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Nicholas McVicker / KPBS
A man speaks to a Broadwell Health testing administrator at the Santa Fe Transit Station in downtown San Diego, Jan. 10, 2022.

"My wife, my mom and myself — we’re all three waiting — none of us have heard anything," said Bay Ho resident Adam Epstein who was tested on Dec. 31.

Epstein was one of the hundreds who turned to transit station COVID-19 testing sites over the holidays, but now more than 10 days later he and his family still have not gotten any results.

"We were excited that we were able to make it work," Epstein said, noting his family was looking for a test after an exposure over Christmas. "We almost just wish we wouldn’t have seen that [testing site] and gone somewhere else and probably gotten our results by now."

The Epstein’s are not the only ones who are waiting more than 10 days for results. The Metropolitan Transit System has been getting complaints about their testing partner testsd.io, which is operated by Broadwell Health.

"It’s been a very terrible and frustrating experience — COVID is bad enough but having to fight to get your results makes it even more frustrating," said Mission Hills resident Veronica Platt Longstreth.

RELATED: California National Guard enlisted for help at test sites around the county, state

Longstreth and her husband were tested twice at transit COVID sites. They got results for one, but still have not heard anything for tests taken on Dec. 30th.

"12 days," she said. "Basically — it’s worthless. ... It’s a public health hazard because people don't know if they are positive or negative. And with my new health conditions it's not something that can be casually tossed aside."

Longstreth was excited to find free testing sites that did not have long lines and were promising results in one or two days. She went on social media and let her neighbors know all about it, something she now regrets.

"We feel bad," she said, noting her husband also spread the word about the sites at his work. "We sent all these people to the testing site and no one has gotten their test results."

Mission Hills resident Beckie Webster was one of those neighbors that saw the social media posts.

"And I am on day 13 [waiting]," Webster said.

Webster said she was tested at the Old Town Transit Center on Dec. 28th, but also does not have results.

"Of course my results are useless at this point but my feeling now is: I want to save other people from going through this misery," she said.

Broadwell Health, which oversees the transit testing operations, is apologizing for the delays and promising to fix turnaround times.

"Due to a sudden and unexpected 500% increase in testing demand over the holidays — a surge that quickly outpaced our staffing and laboratory processing capacities — we failed to meet our anticipated turnaround time of 1-3 days for delivering COVID test results," testsd.io COO Daniel Navarrete said in a statement. "We sincerely apologize to everyone who wasn't served in the manner, fashion and timeline that they deserved. Nothing is more important than protecting our fellow citizens, and we are working around the clock to remedy this delay, by more than doubling our staffing capacity, engaging additional labs to increase our throughput capacity, and securing a greater stockpile of tests to meet current and future demand."

Navarrete added that pending unforeseen events, the company expects to be back delivering results within one to three days.

MTS has been allowing the testing to be done at half a dozen of its transit sites for the last few months and officials said they are monitoring the situation.

"Broadwell Health has been responsive to MTS by developing a plan to reduce the wait times," said MTS spokesperson Mark Olson. "MTS will stay in contact this week to see how things progress."

Olson said there is a contract allowing Broadwell to operate on transit properties, but noted that MTS is not paying for the tests to be administered. The contract does not stipulate tests have to be returned within a certain time window.

Despite the promise to return to normal operations, some are left waiting and wondering if they will ever get their test results.

"I do feel bad because it's a free service and they are trying to help and I understand that — I just wish it would have been communicated to us what we were to expect because there really is no purpose in getting the results at this point," Epstein said. "We haven't felt any symptoms, we were exposed but now it's been long enough where per the CDC we're kind of ok to go back to normal life."