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'We knew it was coming': Owner of Saltzer Medical Group breaks down the COVID-19 pandemic

"People are scrambling, I know they are working right now to figure this out on how to fix this problem," Tommy Ahlquist said.

BOISE, Idaho — As the coronavirus pandemic continues to spread across Idaho and the Treasure Valley, Dr. Tommy Ahlquist, the owner of Saltzer Medical Group in Nampa, discussed the outbreak of COVID-19 with KTVB during a FaceTime interview on Friday. 

The former emergency room doctor explained that testing a crucial first step in combating the coronavirus pandemic.

Idaho's state lab told KTVB that they can have results in 24 to 36 hours but that method is kept open for hospitalized patients. That leaves the bulk of testing to private and commercial labs like LabCorp and Quest Diagnostics, which has been telling people that results could take four to eight days to come in.

Ahlquist also owns one of the labs that are receiving COVID-19 tests and said the volume of tests is a key reason why results take so long to get back.

"Our lab we use is in California, through Quest, so there's the transit time to Quest...once it gets to Quest it gets in line and that's where...that's the problem now. It's in line with hundreds of thousands of these tests now coming from all over the country and then when your test is processed, it's reported back and then we get a hold of you immediately," Ahlquist explained.

If it wasn't for the line of other tests and the shipping time, a test could take minutes.

"It depends, I mean minutes," he said. "The sample goes in the vial, it's pulled out, they go through the PCR testing, it pops out the other end yes or no, and the answer comes out, so the testing itself is very quick, it's just this process now with the backlog."

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Ahlquist said doctors will test people if they show symptoms like fever, coughing or any respiratory symptoms. 

"They will swab you and it's a nasal little swab," he said, "so it goes back into your nose. It's a swab about this long and it goes back into your nose and goes into viral culture medium, labeled with your name, and gets sent immediately to the lab." 

Ahlquist added that he is frustrated by both the local and national response to the coronavirus, specifically that the United States as a whole was underprepared for it.

"My frustration level has been up here this entire time because you knew this was coming, right? We knew it was coming, and so we knew it was coming, why weren't we up..." Ahlquist said. "The one thing we could have done is tested and have been prepared to test, and I'm not pointing fingers because I think it was the private sector, I think it was the state and federal government, everyone fell, flat-footed."

While he is frustrated with how the country's response to COVID-19 has gone thus far, Ahlquist said he is hopeful for the future against the pandemic.

"One thing that I know... we're in America and the entrepreneurial innovative spirit of Idaho and America is real," he said. "People are scrambling, I know they  are [working] right now to figure this out on how to fix this problem, but we will get to a point where everyone can get tested and you're going to have machines and turn around times are going to be quicker, that will absolutely happen."

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