As Stanford students seek to comply with the University’s COVID-19 testing requirements, many are reporting delays in receiving their Color test results, with some reporting turnaround times of up to six days.
The delays come amid a surge of COVID-19 cases on campus. During the first week of winter quarter alone, more than 1,000 Stanford affiliates tested positive, forcing nearly 600 students to isolate. The University’s testing protocol for students returning to campus requires students to take a rapid antigen test upon arrival, followed by two tests on the first day and between days three and five after arrival.
Stanford warned students about the longer testing turnaround times in a Stanford Report announcement on Jan. 13. The University asked students who had just arrived on campus not to submit a new test until they had received the previous test result. The delays have also resulted in Color, Stanford’s surveillance testing partner, limiting students to submitting two COVID-19 tests per week, according to a message posted on the student Color dashboard.
Given the volume of COVID-19 cases on campus, Scott Vu ’25 said that he believes it is critical for test results to be returned within a reasonable time frame. But Vu said his Color test results took between five and six days.
“Within that time span, I just had to know if I had COVID or not because everyone in our dorm is getting COVID,” Vu said.
Color Health wrote in a statement to The Daily that its labs across the country are experiencing “unprecedented testing volumes and staff shortages,” which could contribute to the delays in test results. But the testing provider added that the lab’s median turnaround time for Stanford samples for the week of Jan. 3 was “44 hours from receipt at the lab to the return of results.”
Vu also raised concerns about how the testing delays could contribute to the spread of COVID-19 if students are waiting for their test results without knowing whether or not they are COVID-positive. He called on the University to expedite the delays or provide alternatives to get results faster, such as giving students rapid tests on a regular basis.
Sam Catania ’24, The Daily’s chief technology officer who has previously reported on the pandemic, said that he experienced a similarly long turnaround time to Vu. “When I submitted my first Color test the morning after I got back to campus, it took a full seven days to come back negative,” he said.
Catania ended up receiving the results of a second test taken five days later at a similar time to the results of his first test. “I submitted my second test for the quarter five days after the first as instructed, but that one only took around 48 hours to come back, which was more reasonable,” he said.
Catania recalled his tests during fall quarter coming back in 36 to 48 hours, adding that “tests results that take seven days to come back are not particularly useful at reducing the spread of COVID.”
Other students, including Mohamed Ismail ’25, have had better luck with testing. Ismail said that he has “only waited a day” to receive his first Color test results.
Ismail did say, however, that those around him have experienced longer turnaround times. “I know there’s people that test like a week in advance, and then only get the results super late,” he said.
Ismail expressed hope for faster turnaround times moving forward: “I think that as of late, the Color tests have been a bit quicker, since [the University] told people to only take two tests per week,” he said.
Stanford spokesperson E.J. Miranda wrote in a statement that the University and Color are working to lower the time it takes to receive COVID-19 test results.
“We believe this is a short-term situation and we will see steady improvement in wait times as the omicron wave subsides,” he wrote, adding that even though Stanford’s caseload and positive rate have risen, they are lower than that of Santa Clara County and California.
In response to the delays, Color said it is increasing staffing at its testing labs as well as postponing the onboarding of new customers “until we are confident in our capacity and processes.”