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Texas' Medical Lab Workers Face Continued Crunch As COVID-19 Cases Rise

Cars line up for drive-thru COVID-19 testing in Austin.
Gabriel C. Pérez
Cars line up for drive-thru COVID-19 testing in Austin.

As COVID-19 continues to spread out of control in Texas, medical laboratory professionals are facing burnout and exhaustion.

In the U.S., these workers have performed approximately 213 million COVID-19 tests alone so far. On average, they perform about 13 billion medical tests a year, and there are only about 300,000 medical lab professionals in the U.S.

Dr. Rodney Rohde, an adjunct professor at Austin Community College and the chair of Texas State University’s Clinical Laboratory Science Program, said this is a group of workers that is commonly overworked. Most of them work 12- to 15-hour shifts in hospitals and laboratories around the country.

“We are very busy,” Rohde said. “We have shortages that are as bad or worse as nursing and other health care professionals.”

Since the pandemic, Rohde said, the onslaught of millions of COVID-19 tests has added an overwhelming amount of work that is key to fighting the pandemic. Public health experts have said making sure people are getting tested often and that their results are available in a short time frame is among the best ways to control the spread of the virus.

But making that happen, Rohde said, has been exhausting for the workers who have to run those tests.

“People are tired,” he said. “We are emotionally involved — just like anyone else in the front-lines — we are physically tired and we are mentally tired. And there really is no end in sight.”

State health officials have said it will take months for everyone to get vaccinated, which means testing, masks and physical distancing will remain a part of everyone’s life for a while.

In the meantime, experts also anticipate a continued increase in the number of COVID-19 cases in the state — especially as families continue to gather during the holidays.

“I am absolutely concerned as we go forward,” Rohde said. “We have some rough months ahead of us.”

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Ashley Lopez covers politics and health care. Got a tip? Email her at Follow her on Twitter @AshLopezRadio.
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