Ahead of Thanksgiving, Cities See Surge in Demand for Covid Tests

Cars wait in line at the Coronavirus (COVID-19) drive in testing site, set up in the parking lot of Hard Rock Stadium as Florida reported more than 5,838 new cases of COVID-19 on November 12, 2020 in Miami Gardens, Florida.

Cars wait in line at the Coronavirus (COVID-19) drive in testing site, set up in the parking lot of Hard Rock Stadium as Florida reported more than 5,838 new cases of COVID-19 on November 12, 2020 in Miami Gardens, Florida. mpi04/MediaPunch /IPX


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Leaders in San Francisco warned the city’s testing capacity is being overrun by people looking to travel, and urged people to just stay home.

Coronavirus testing sites across the United States are reporting increased demand for tests ahead of Thanksgiving week, worrying local government leaders that Americans are ignoring their calls to scale back holiday gatherings and travel.

In San Francisco, where 5,800 people are being tested daily, public officials warned that the city’s free testing capacity is being overrun by people seeking to be tested ahead of the holiday.

“Please do not use testing to determine whether you can travel or not,” said Dr. Grant Colfax, the director of the San Francisco Department of Public Health, during a briefing this week. “The safest way to celebrate Thanksgiving is to stay at home with your immediate household.”

Public health officials have for weeks stressed that large Thanksgiving gatherings could exacerbate community spread of Covid-19, urging Americans to forego traditional gatherings. 

One of the key issues: A negative test ahead of travel won’t guarantee a safe experience. A person who receives a negative test result could be in the early stages of an infection and then unwittingly spread the virus to others at a gathering, Colfax warned.

Even Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, said he will not see his three adult daughters this year due to concerns about the virus.

Despite those warnings, Florida officials in charge of state testing sites were anticipating a busy week as people head into the Thanksgiving holiday.

“Our mission is anyone who wants a test, gets a test,” said Mike Jachles, spokesman for Fort Lauderdale and also for the state-run testing site at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens.  

The drive-thru stadium testing site reopened last week after severe flooding from Tropical Storm Eta closed the site for several days. More than 2,500 people received tests at the site Tuesday, Jachles said.

“We are not seeing any issues of supply and we are able to accommodate the demand,” he said, adding that wait times were longest in the morning and could take 1 to 2 hours.

The increased demand is likely also driven by a new record-setting wave of Covid-19 infections, which has some local government leaders reexamining their testing capacity. 

Washington, D.C. leaders on Wednesday announced an expansion of the city’s testing sites to accommodate the surge in demand. The city currently conducts between 3,500 and 4,200 free tests each day and plans to expand hours of operation and to add another testing site at Nationals Park. 

Starting Monday, the city will also begin collecting insurance information from people who receive tests in order to start billing insurance companies. D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser emphasized that no one will be asked to pay a co-pay and that those without insurance or who may have forgotten an insurance card will not be turned away.

“Anyone who needs a test will be able to get one,” Bowser said. “But by collecting insurance information, we can make better use of District resources. Insurance companies should be paying for the tests.”

Demand for tests varied at sites across the nation’s capital this week. While the line for free tests administered outside a Capitol Hill fire station stretched three city blocks on Tuesday night, only about 20 people waited in line for tests at a different fire station located about two miles away on the east side of town.

For now, D.C. is able to meet the increase in testing demand and “we don’t foresee having any issues,” said Chris Geldart, the director of the city’s Department of Public Works.

The District has been able to provide test results within three to five days, and most people are able to get Covid-19 test results in about three days, Geldart said. The wait time could increase with the surge in testing demand, but Geldart said he believes the city will be able to keep within the three to five day window.

Private testing labs are already warning that the surge in demand has slowed the time it takes to receive test results. 

LabCorp said it is experiencing a rise in demand for Covid-19 tests across the country and is working to increase its current 210,000-test-per-day capacity to keep up with demand, according to a spokeswoman. The number of Covid-19 tests requested from Quest Diagnostics has increased by 50% compared to the last week in September and it is now taking slightly longer—a little more than two days—to receive results than it was at the end of August.

Andrea Noble is a staff correspondent with Route Fifty.

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