Holiday travel, family gatherings and the rapid surge of new coronavirus cases triggered by the omicron variant, are driving huge demand for COVID-19 tests, leaving people scrambling as they prepare to celebrate Christmas and New Year’s.
The result so far has been around-the-block lines at testing sites and shortages of at-home tests at drug stores. And many Americans are facing the possibility that they’ll have to scrap their plans altogether, as the number of testing opportunities dwindles ahead of the holidays.
“Oh my God. It’s just overwhelming,” Sheryl Malone, told NPR member station WKSU in Ohio.
Malone was trying to get tested on Wednesday after she said she was exposed to COVID-19 at work. She said she’d exhausted all other options before joining the long queue. She’d gone on an unsuccessful hunt for for an at-home test kit at local drug stores. She’d also tried to make an appointment with her doctor and at pharmacies, but that didn’t work either.
“Their appointments are so far off,” she said, explaining how she’d ended up in line at a Cleveland testing facility half an hour before it opened.
National, state and local leaders are trying to respond to the current crush of demand, but aid may come too late.
The Biden administration, which has come under pressure for not increasing widespread availability of at-home tests, on Tuesday rolled out a plan to set up federal testing across the country. President Biden also said the government would buy a half-billion at-home COVID test kits and mail them to people who want them. But deliveries won’t start until January.
The hyper-contagious omicron variant has led to record-high number of cases for New York state, and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has said the city is planning to increase the number of testing sites by the end of this week. Gov. Kathy Hochul also announced on Tuesday that the city will begin offering testing at two MTA stations as soon as Monday and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will operate three new mobile units across the city.
In California, Gov. Gavin Newsom said on Wednesday that testing site hours would be extended to meet increased demand. The state will also “distribute at-home test kits to every K-12 student returning to public school so we can keep our classrooms safe,” he added.
But statewide storms are slowing or shutting down in-person testing. The city of Long Beach closed three of its testing locations due to rain. Other outdoor testing centers were moved indoors.
In Washington, D.C., Hernan Morales was one of those queued up Wednesday at a public library to receive a free rapid test. He told DCist/WAMU that it took him three hours to get a PCR test earlier in the week, after several of his coworkers tested positive and he wasn’t sure when he would get the results.
“I’m just frustrated. … I don’t know who to be frustrated [with],” Morales said.