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As COVID-19 testing availability dwindles, health officials urge patience

Covid testing
Posted at 4:44 PM, Dec 22, 2021
and last updated 2021-12-22 18:13:04-05

CHESTERFIELD COUNTY, Va. -- With the holiday season in full swing and with the omicron variant becoming the dominant strain of COVID-19 in the United States, demand for testing has increased. As result, some are having trouble finding one.

Dozens lined up at a testing event put on by the Chesterfield Health District on Wednesday.

"I have a 14-month-old grandbaby and I want to be able to spend Christmas with her," Carla Valentine, who attended the testing event, said.

But before learning of Chesterfield's testing event, Valentine said that available appointments were hard to find.

"I went to everywhere around the area, surrounding areas and there were just no testing sites available. The only one they had was like on the 27th of next week," Valentine said.

She added that she didn't even try to find an at-home test kit.

"I know they were saying they weren't even available at this time," Valentine said.

Across the country, there are reports of long lines at testing events and shortages of at-home test kits. Some pharmacies, like CVS Health and Walgreens, have said they are limiting the number customers can buy at one time due to high demand.

Health officials say that the demand in Virginia is no different, pointing to the holidays and the new Omicron variant as driving factors. They say that they have asked local health districts to put on more testing events as it's an important tool for people to know their status and for officials to track the pandemic.

"Having that information is helpful to understand where we are as a Commonwealth and as a country," said Dr. Laurie Forlano, Deputy Director of the Office of Epidemiology at the Virginia Department of Health (VDH).

VDH's Covid-19 page showed that the seven-day moving average of testing encounters by lab report date was at 37,607 as of Dec. 18, 2021 — numbers not seen since early October.

To help address the heightened demand, President Joe Biden announced Tuesday that the federal government would help set up additional testing sites in areas that need it and has ordered 500 million at-home kits that people will be able to order for free in January.

Meanwhile, Virginia has launched several initiatives, including offering tests at libraries. However, localities like Richmond and Chesterfield say that they have run out.

"I think by the end of this month, we hope to have shipped a total of 110,000. So we did library. So I think we have just a little bit more to get out of this month," Dr. Forlano said.

Dr. Forlano said she understands and shares people's frustrations and encourages people to check out the state and local health websites for help finding some testing options.

"Keep at it and know that we're definitely pulling out all the stops to try to get as many kits as we can in this context of limited supply," Dr. Forlano said.