By Dylan Svoboda
After a COVID-19 exposure over the holidays, Casey Pedersen, 31, made an appointment on New Year's Eve for a COVID-19 test at Cal Expo the following Monday.
That morning, after three days of quarantine, Pedersen waited in her car for about an hour before finally conducting her test. She estimated that she was one of more than 100 people waiting at the state fair site, which was one of several sites closed from Dec. 31 to Jan. 2.
“Personally, I love the drive through process,” she said. “It feels safest. But the line length might otherwise be a huge barrier, plus the testing not running from [New Years Eve to Jan. 2] during the omicron surge is a bad look.”
Pederson was one of many Sacramento area residents scrambling to find COVID-19 tests this week while the omicron variant took hold. The overwhelming demand has testing sites, clinics, hospitals, pharmacies and stores struggling to keep up as people return to school and work from the holiday season.
At La Familia Counseling Center in south Sacramento on Monday, people waited for an hour and a half to two hours to get tested, according to Jerry Vang, the lead resource coordinator at La Familia. The county-run testing site saw more than 1,600 people Monday, Vang said. On a typical day, he added, the site conducts about 300-500 tests.
La Familia was far from alone. Long lines were seen at testing sites across the state, including Liberty Towers Church, Arden Fair Mall and Sacramento City Unified School District headquarters, among others, in Sacramento.
Sacramento County spokeswoman Samantha Mott said local testing sites have seen a “significant increase in the demand for tests” over the past two weeks due to the holidays and omicron concerns, causing long waits for tests and appointments.
Mott said there was no shortage of COVID-19 tests despite being hard to come by.
“Anyone who wants to get a test this week will be able to do so at any of our county run community clinics,” she said.
Many local pharmacies are struggling to keep up with COVID-19 testing demand as well. Clint Hopkins, pharmacist and owner of Pucci’s Pharmacy in East Sacramento, said his store is “getting bombarded with requests from the public for at-home COVID test kits.”
Hopkins said it was by far the busiest his store had been since the pandemic began.
“The phones have gotten to the point where we just cannot manage them from the volume of calls,” he said. “We’ve restricted the number of kits for purchase to two per person to try to avoid hoarding and make sure that we are being equitable to everyone.”
Hopkins said that even with the limits per customer, the store is selling out of tests every day.
The lack of testing availability has had consequences for some local residents.
On Tuesday morning, Chris Teevan, 30, woke up with COVID-19 symptoms. Teevan, who doesn’t drive, checked online to see if the CVS, Rite Aid or Walgreens near his south Sacramento residence had any at-home tests available. None of them did.
Teevan also looked for a testing appointment nearby, hoping that he could get his results back before a Thursday shift at his retail job. He didn’t have any luck.
He finally found a test Wednesday at the South Sacramento Christian Center, but results didn't come back in time for his work day Thursday,and he missed his shift. The entire experience has been “beyond frustrating,” Teevan said.
High demand may not be the only explanation for the delays and shortages. Dr. Dean Blumberg, the chief of pediatric infectious diseases at UC Davis Health, said he’s found that a significant number of COVID-19 test workers have gone out sick with the virus themselves.
Blumberg noted that workers are needed to conduct swabs, transport tests to the lab, run the tests and enter the results into the database.
“If there's any shortage of workers, that's going to result in delays also,” he said.
Blumberg said he doesn’t expect improvements until about a month from now, after a peak of daily infections.
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