Lack of supplies and long lines make it difficult for Sacramento residents to get tested for COVID-19 as omicron spreads


By Dylan Svoboda

After exposure to COVID-19 during the holidays, Casey Pedersen, 31, made a New Years Eve appointment for a COVID-19 test at Cal Expo the following Monday.

That morning, after three days in quarantine, Pedersen waited in his car for about an hour before finally taking his test. She estimated that she was one of more than 100 people waiting at the site of the State Fair, which was one of many sites closed from December 31 to January 2.

“Personally, I like the driving process,” she said. “It’s safer. But the length of the line could otherwise be a huge obstacle, and the tests don’t run from [New Years Eve to Jan. 2] during the omicron surge is a bad look.

Pederson was one of many residents of the Sacramento area scrambling to find COVID-19 tests this week as 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 after the holidays.

At the La Familia counseling center in south Sacramento on Monday, people waited an hour and a half to two hours to get tested, according to Jerry Vang, the senior resource coordinator at La Familia. The county-run test site saw more than 1,600 people on Monday, Vang said. On a typical day, he added, the site performs around 300 to 500 tests.

La Familia was far from the only one. Long lines were seen at test 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 demand for testing” over the past two weeks due to the holidays and omicron issues, causing long waits for tests and appointments.

Mott said there is no shortage of COVID-19 tests despite being difficult to find.

“Anyone who wants to take a test this week can do so in one of our county-run community clinics,” she said.

Many local pharmacies are also struggling to meet demand for COVID-19 testing. Clint Hopkins, pharmacist and owner of Pucci Pharmacy in East Sacramento, said his store “is bombarded with requests from the public for COVID home test kits.”

Hopkins said it was by far the busiest at his store since the start of the pandemic.

“Phones have gotten to the point where we just can’t handle them from call volume anymore,” he said. “We have limited the number of kits to be purchased to two per person to try to avoid hoarding and to ensure that we are fair to everyone.”

Hopkins said that even with the per-customer limits, the store sells tests every day.

The lack of availability of tests has had consequences for some local residents.

On Tuesday morning, Chris Teevan, 30, woke up with symptoms of COVID-19. Teevan, who doesn’t drive, checked online to see if the CVS, Rite Aid or Walgreens near his residence south of Sacramento had in-home testing. None of them did.

Teevan also sought a nearby testing appointment, hoping he could pick up his results before a Thursday shift at his retail job. He was unlucky.

He finally found a test Wednesday at the South Sacramento Christian Center, but the results didn’t arrive in time for his workday Thursday, and he missed his shift. The whole experience was “beyond the frustration,” Teevan said.

Strong demand may not be the only explanation for delays and shortages. Dr Dean Blumberg, chief of pediatric infectious diseases at UC Davis Health, said he had discovered that a significant number of COVID-19 testing workers were themselves ill with the virus.

Blumberg noted that workers are needed to take swabs, transport the tests to the lab, run the tests and enter the results into the database.

“If there is a shortage of workers, it will also cause delays,” he said.

Blumberg said he didn’t expect any improvements for about a month, after a spike in daily infections.

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