Week awaits COVID-19 test as omicron explodes in Bay Area

Wednesday, backup at Auto Mall Parkway was four hours. Thursday it was shorter, but Deven Chandani gave up, found a place to park and went to Irvington High School instead.

All to get your fingers in one of the most coveted things in any medicine cabinet on the planet: COVID-19 tests so his kids can return to school when classes resume on Monday.

He has had just as much pain trying to schedule a test for his wife so she can fly to Bombay at the end of the month.

“Getting waxed and boosted was fine – that’s the test that’s been tough,” Chandani said.

With California and the United States experiencing the worst COVID-19 case of the pandemic as the super-infectious omicron variant spreads, Bay Area residents are struggling to be tested and are now waiting for appointments more than a week away.

FREMONT, CA – JANUARY 6: Fremont Unified School District employee Trudy Parker, right, distributes COVID-19 test kits on Thursday, January 6, 2022 in Fremont, California. Fremont Unified School District distributed rapid test kits to students and staff at three school locations in the district. (Aric Crabb / Bay Area News Group)

Bay Area health officials say they have been hit by a combination of explosive demand from the rapidly spreading virus plaguing the cold and flu season, supply constraints and severe staff shortages, often caused by COVID-19 disease affecting test administrators and laboratories that processes the samples.

“The demand we are seeing right now has really never been so high,” said Dr. Jennifer Tong, associate chief physician at Santa Clara Valley Medical Center, who oversees the county’s test operation. “It’s partly because of the number of infections and the number of people they’ve been in contact with who tried to be tested, and the worried wells and those who tried to test to travel. The large number of people trying to access to tests is unprecedented. “

Santa Clara County’s largest site for molecular PCR testing at the county’s fairgrounds has risen from 1,500 daily tests last week to about 5,000.

But efforts to staff up and meet demand have been hampered by staff testing positive or unable to get in due to unexpected childcare needs, Tong said. Of the 25 employees to be added on Monday, only eight were unemployed.

Tong said the lab they work with to process the tests has sent samples to Texas due to staff shortages, and processing times for results have been stretched.

In Contra Costa County, the two county-run test sites and the state test sites showed the earliest appointments one week out, on January 13th.

“We often add appointments every morning to county locations depending on capacity, but they are quickly intercepted,” said health department spokesman Will Harper.

FREMONT, CA – JANUARY 6: Fremont Unified School District staff will distribute COVID-19 test kits at Irvington High School on Thursday, January 6, 2022 in Fremont, California. The Fremont Unified School District distributed rapid test kits to students and staff members at three school locations in the district. (Aric Crabb / Bay Area News Group)

In Alameda County, demand for county seats exceeds the last peak in September, and some community test sites report quadrupling.

In San Mateo County, county-run PCR testing sites, which provide about 15% of testing nationwide, were about 10% above capacity, spokesman Preston Merchant said.

In the Bay Area Vaccine Hunters group on Facebook, which was set up last winter to help people find vaccine appointments, posts have shifted from where to find a booster shot to how to find a COVID-19 test, said moderator Jessica Moore.

“I know a lot of people are frustrated,” Moore said. “I’ve been having trouble finding PCR tests for less than two weeks, and by the time I find one and send someone to it, it’s already been taken.”

And the antigen rapid tests that can be bought at pharmacies are still sparse. Schools made available by the state are running out and they are rapidly disappearing from store shelves. On the vaccine hunters’ Facebook group, some who had extras offered them to others, and they were snatched up in a flash.

“Every time someone posts on the Facebook page, if you click half an hour later, they’re gone,” Moore said.

The sudden lack of tests has drawn criticism from health experts, who say government leaders should not have been caught flat-footed by the omicron rise.

FREMONT, CA – JANUARY 6: Boxes of COVID-19 test kits were photographed Thursday, January 6, 2022 in Fremont, California. The Fremont Unified School District distributed rapid test kits to students and staff at three district school locations. (Aric Crabb / Bay Area News Group)

Dr. Michael Mina, an assistant professor of epidemiology at Harvard’s TH Chan School of Public Health who has advocated for more aggressive use of rapid tests, asked on Twitter: “Why do we keep waiting in this pandemic and only act when it is quite clear that we have screwed up? ”

White House Coronavirus Response Coordinator Jeffrey Zients said in a news briefing Wednesday that the administration provides an additional $ 10 billion for testing in schools, and rapid test production has increased from less than 50 million to more than 200 million per month. But President Joe Biden’s promise last month to make half a billion quick tests available to people to order online for free from the federal government and sent to their homes in January remains an ongoing work.

“Americans will start receiving free tests in the coming weeks,” Zients said.

County officials have been working to try to alleviate the backup. Santa Clara County is moving a Gilroy test site to San Martin on Monday for improved traffic flow and is working on getting more home tests. San Mateo County is adding a new test site at the Event Center and extending classes at existing locations. Contra Costa County is working with the state to expand capacity at its four locations in the county.

All that can be a little comforting to those who need a test now. Health authorities advise those who are at risk or feel ill to isolate themselves if they cannot find a test. Meanwhile, Tong suggests that those who need a test just keep trying all day.

“Some people are very lucky,” she said.

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