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Central Va. COVID-19 testing events packed as supply shortages continue

Published: Dec. 29, 2021 at 5:26 PM EST|Updated: Dec. 29, 2021 at 6:08 PM EST
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RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - COVID-19 testing events across metro-Richmond were once again packed with folks waiting in line for hours.

Many who waited said they have had a hard time getting an appointment scheduled at urgent care centers, pharmacies and walk-up events.

However, Dr. Danny Avula, the Director of the Richmond Henrico Health Districts, said there is another factor impacting what’s going on currently in the community.

“Some of this is a limitation on actual tests, while some of it is a limitation on actual staff,” he said.

It’s been an incredibly busy last 22 months for Virginia healthcare workers.

Avula said a shortage of staff is hurting its testing capabilities.

“The same way that so many industries have suffered from a lack of people to be able to hire and do the work, we’re seeing that ourselves; not having the staffing to stand up and do testing events,” he added. “It’s a tough spot.”

However, Avula added Virginia is also dealing with another combination.

“The time of year and the surging disease is really driving the need for tests,” he said.

“I know my daughter had to wait at least four hours when she went to Patient First,” said Sandra Parker, of Powhatan.

It’s been a waiting game for many like Parker. Over the course of the last two days, hundreds of people have waited in lines at health district testing events and urgent care centers across metro Richmond.

Parker said she’s in need of a test after being exposed to someone with COVID-19 despite her full vaccination status.

“We’re at home just coughing and blowing our noses, so I said I better get tested,” she added. “I’m a school teacher, I’ll be going back on January 4th.”

For hundreds of people who turned out for a testing event in Henrico, they would have to wait for another day to get tested.

The Richmond Henrico Health District pushed out the following message an hour into its scheduled event:

“We’ve tested about 300 individuals so far at Eastern Henrico Recreation Center and are expecting to run through the rest of our tests with folks already in line. We are stopping the line currently. More testing opportunities coming soon! Stay tuned!”

Among RHHD’s two events this week, nearly 850 people were tested for COVID-19.

Meanwhile, 45 minutes before Chesterfield Health District’s scheduled to start on Wednesday, staff had already handed out its 150 test forms to fill out.

“The Chesterfield Health District has been proactive in trying to increase capacity with regard to available contract testing personnel and DCLS approval to process tests,” said CHD Director Dr. Alexander Samuel. “Demand for testing at our community testing events has been increasing. Two weeks ago we tested only 11 people, and last Friday we tested 96.”

James Stone was the first one in line, arriving six hours ahead of time to get a test.

“I’m going to be going home soon, and I don’t want to be getting on a plane positive,” Stone said.

According to the Virginia Department of Health, more than 12,000 new COVID-19 cases were reported overnight Wednesday.

Governor Ralph Northam released a statement saying the case numbers are a reason for concern, but not a reason to panic:

“We have all studied the “number of cases” for many months now, but this data point means something different today, compared to this time last year.

One year ago, vaccines had just become available, so nearly no one had gotten a shot. Today, more than 14 million shots have been given in Virginia. Only nine states have given more shots, and those states are all larger than Virginia. That’s good news, and it’s thanks to a lot of hard work by Virginians.

Vaccinations are keeping people safe, even as the omicron variant spreads. Data from around the world show that if people have gotten vaccinated, and then get COVID, then symptoms are likely to be minor. That’s how the vaccines are designed to work, and it’s more good news.”

However, Stone added he was concerned about the rise in case numbers.

“Maybe people got a little bit complacent and started thinking they could go out again without masks or anything, which may be saw an uptick in positive tests; people starting to get a little bit concerned,” he said.

“The surge that has happened over this past week is faster than any increase we’ve seen in disease that we’ve seen thus far,” Avula said. “I think that combination of an incredibly contagious variant, the increase in cases happening very quickly, and the overlap of holiday traveling, and gathering is really leading to this demand that we’re struggling to keep up with.”

Avula added he anticipates the demand for testing to increase over the next few weeks due to the delta and omicron variants.

“The tests just aren’t there,” he said. “We’ve heard from the federal government some exciting news come January, but we really need that right now, which is that 500 million tests are going to be distributed throughout the month of January. So, there’s better recognition, and has been for a while, that we need better access to rapid testing.”

Meanwhile, messages to the Governor’s Office for comment on testing shortages were not immediately returned.

In the Governor’s statement on Wednesday, it did briefly mention testing, but stated, “PCR tests are widely available.” Several Virginians fired back on social media regarding that comment.

“That’s been such a hard thing to come by here in Fairfax county,” wrote on Twitter user. “Long lines and because of my lower back issues I can’t stand in long lines nor sit still in my car for hours to get a test .. wish there was an easier way to get rapid/covid tests.”

“PCR tests are NOT widely available in NOVA,” wrote another person. “I just checked around & the earliest available appointment is almost a week away (in Alexandria). And the closest testing site to me apparently closed.”

Meanwhile, several of the local health districts announced more testing events come 2022.

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