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See the latest news and updates about COVID-19 and its impact on the Charlotte region, the Carolinas and beyond.

Charlotte’s COVID-19 testing sites ‘trying to push through’ omicron surge

Cars line up at a StarMed COVID-19 testing site on Tuckaseegee Road in west Charlotte.
Claire Donnelly
Cars line up at a StarMed COVID-19 testing site on Tuckaseegee Road in west Charlotte.

Shortly before 9 a.m. on Thursday, a group gathered under a white tent in a west Charlotte parking lot. A couple of people pulled down their masks to sip from travel coffee mugs. Someone cracked open an energy drink.

“Alright, guys … I think we have enough (people) for two tents today, is that right?” asked Olivia Shurter, kicking off the daily morning huddle.

Shurter runs the StarMed Healthcare testing and vaccine site on Tuckaseegee Road. She ran the staff through a quick list of updates. Ten National Guard members would be helping them today, she said, and Pfizer booster shots were, as of Wednesday evening, authorized for anyone 12 and older. Plus, Shurter added, the weather looked like it would be pleasant.

“I think it’s supposed to get up into the 50s so it should warm up on us here soon,” she said.

Outside the tent, about 75 cars were already lined up–people eager to get tested for COVID-19. The highly contagious omicron variant of the coronavirus has in recent weeks created a surge in demand for tests in Mecklenburg County. In Charlotte, cars snake across parking lots, stretching for several blocks and in some cases, into residential neighborhoods.

At the Tuckaseegee test site, the number of people wanting tests has tripled, according to site lead Maria Suarez. She said the highest number of patients she had ever witnessed during one day was 991–up from between 200 or 300 daily before the holidays and omicron.

As the first two cars rolled into the tent Thursday, StarMed staff hustled to fill out paperwork, swab people’s noses and conduct rapid tests.

Sgt. 1st Class Ronald Lawrence with the National Guard helped direct traffic. He said it’s hard for him to tell would-be testers that they may have to wait in line for two or three hours but he does enjoy watching the things people do to entertain themselves while they wait.

“We had people just order food and they had to run and pick it up from, like, DoorDash,” Lawrence said. “One guy was just asleep. Slept through the whole thing, he had his radio running, that’s how you know his battery was dead.”

Some Charlotteans are fed up with the long wait times and traffic jams at these testing sites–and have taken drastic measures. At StarMed’s testing location on South Boulevard on Wednesday, a man with a gun got into an argument with one of the staff members, according to StarMed. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police said that "officers spoke with all parties involved and determined that no crime had occurred, although there was a disturbance."

In a separate incident, StarMed said, another man with a gun got into a confrontation with someone waiting in line. He said the person’s vehicle was blocking his driveway. In response to these events, StarMed CEO Mike Estramonte said he is hiring off-duty CMPD officers — 10 of whom he said had already started at testing sites Thursday.

“We’re piecing this together,” Estramonte said. “We’re identifying the areas where they’re needed the most and putting them there. And we’ll keep plugging the holes until we get through this surge.”

Suarez said she wants people to be patient with the people working at StarMed’s testing locations.

“We know there’s … a lot of people having to wait, a lot of people being upset with us. And I just hope they have the understanding that we’re trying to get through, we’re trying to push through, we’re trying to help … We’re taking care of a lot of people,” she said.

Charlotte’s two largest hospital systems, Atrium Health and Novant Health, each opened an extra testing location recently to try to help meet demand.

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Claire Donnelly is WFAE's health reporter. She previously worked at NPR member station KGOU in Oklahoma and also interned at WBEZ in Chicago and WAMU in Washington, D.C. She holds a master's degree in journalism from Northwestern University and attended college at the University of Virginia, where she majored in Comparative Literature and Spanish. Claire is originally from Richmond, Virginia. Reach her at cdonnelly@wfae.org or on Twitter @donnellyclairee.