The Charlotte area sees long lines for COVID-19 tests amid holiday omicron surge
People across the Charlotte area face long lines for COVID-19 testing as the highly contagious omicron variant collides with holiday socializing.
North Carolina’s health department reports that more than 5,600 new COVID-19 cases were reported on Christmas Eve and nearly 6,900 cases on Christmas day. Those were some of the highest daily COVID totals the state has seen since the delta variant surged in September.
On Tuesday, nearly 3,700 new infections were reported by the state, and just over 1,900 people were hospitalized for COVID.
StarMed Healthcare, which has clinics in 29 counties, has seen demand for vaccines, testing and treatment skyrocket. CEO Mike Estramonte says people are waiting an average of 90 minutes at drive-through lines now, compared with three or four hours over the Christmas weekend.
“Obviously, anybody that’s been to any of our testing lines it’s been a significant increase,” Estramonte said Tuesday at a clinic in Charlotte. “All of our sites … they’ve just gone through the roof with our current demand.”
Estramonte says that’s because of omicron, which accounts for a growing share of positive tests, and cold and flu season. Compared with last winter, he says, more people are seeking tests when they have symptoms.
Estramonte says the growing demand — including from the federal government — is tightening the supply of tests.
“It’s putting a significant logistical challenge on our organization to make sure that we have plenty of rapid tests," he said. "We’re piecemealing it together. We just put in an order for 90,000 rapid tests."
The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services says there’s not a statewide shortage of testing supplies, but people who want to be tested or get vaccinated need to go online and look for their best options.
North Carolina also offers a COVID-19 Test Home Collection Kit Program to provide no-cost, at-home COVID-19 collection kits for residents who may face difficulties traveling to testing sites. The kits require people to take a swab and mail it in to a lab for results.
Novant Health — one of the two major health care systems in Charlotte — asks that people use their main testing site only if they have symptoms or exposure to COVID. Novant says people seeking clearance for travel, work or school should use the state’s Test Finder site.