Long lines, hours of waiting at COVID-19 test sites

SEATTLE — The surge in coronavirus cases has people lining up for hours at COVID-19 test sites across the Sound. Many are wanting to get tested before the Thanksgiving holiday.

“We’re seeing an incredible surge in demand for testing this week. A lot of that demand is related to planning for holidays. And unfortunately, this demand is straining our capacity at the test sites,” said Capt. Brian Wallace, with the Seattle Fire Department. Wallace is also the city’s COVID-19 testing coordinator.

Wallace said across Seattle’s four free test sites, all run by the Seattle Fire Department, wait times are an hour to 90 minutes — even for people with an appointment.

“That’s unusual for us,” Walllace said.

In Lacey, at Providence Hawks Prairie’s drive-thru test site, people waited more than three hours to get a test.

At Seattle’s SoDo drive-thru test site, cars backed up onto the road for blocks outside the facility. There was a similar situation at the Seward Park walk-up site— only with long lines of people instead of cars.

“I’m traveling for Thanksgiving, and I just wanted to make sure I don’t have it before I travel,” said Jordan Berardi, who was in line at the Steward Park location on Tuesday. “My family is in Kansas City, so I’m headed there. But if anything comes back, then I won’t be going,” she said.

The Seattle Fire Department reported it went from testing more than 3,000 people per day to more than 5,000 people.

Now it is asking people with no symptoms and no known exposure to COVID-19 to skip getting a test at the city’s free sites.

“Unfortunately, a lot of these tests people are doing for holiday planning may come at the expense of people that need a test because they have symptoms or known exposure,” Wallace said.

One option for people is to pay for a home test kit, and these are now available at Safeway/ Albertsons, Costco or online. Some of Bartell’s locations are offering tests. Wallace adds that you can always check with your doctor’s office about options.

But he also said what people should be doing is follow the governor’s latest order and cancel any indoor gatherings.

Many families say they are complying.

“Normally, we have 20 to 30 people in the house,” said Rosana Brown, who was also getting a test on Tuesday. “But this year, it’s just going to be the two of us. You have to play it safe. And hopefully, next year, we’ll have a big party,” she said.

The surge in demand is also causing delays in results for some labs. Quest Diagnostics reported in a news release on Tuesday that turnaround times are now taking “slightly more than 2 days.”

It also reported the demand is causing another round of supply shortages for labs.

“The laboratory industry as a whole is experiencing increasing constraints on supplies, including test kits and reagents on high-end platforms as well as pipettes,” Quest Diagnostics stated.