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France struggles with virus testing amid second wave

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(26 Sep 2020) The second coronavirus wave has hit France, and technicians at a test lab near Paris are already feeling the impact.
"We've reached a level where 16% of all our tests come back positive", warned Laurence Courdavault, the head of the medical biology department at the public hospital in Argenteuil.
16% is more than twice the national average, although the restrictions in place – compulsory appointment and prescription, no 'comfort' testing – mean higher numbers. But it's an upwards trend.
Courdavault didn't wait to start implementing stricter rules in the middle of the summer.
"We defined time slots for taking samples and I told the testing centre to limit the number of samples they took so as to avoid never-ending lines and to make sure we could handle these samples ourselves", she said.
Courdavault's 240 daily tests are just a fraction of the 37,000 samples processed every day across the Paris region.
Yet it wouldn't take many more to push her lab into overdrive. Sometimes they run out of reagents over the weekend. "This strain on the supply chain for reagents is preoccupying and it means more work to keep track," she said.
More work for Courdavault's lab could mean overtime for her biologists and less time devoted to analysing samples for patients with other serious illnesses.
The cost is not just medical or financial: the long hours are taking a toll.
"The staff are tired and in particular the technicians who work in this department, honestly, they're exhausted," Courdavault noted.
In any case, she's told her staff to brace themselves: "We are in the midst of a second wave and it will peak around October 15," she said.

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