COVID-19 testing sites inundated days before Thanksgiving

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — If getting a COVID test is in your plans ahead of Thanksgiving, you may be running out of time.

Currently, North Carolina officials say the average turnaround time for a test is about 2 and a half days. Cases across the state are rapidly climbing, which is increasing the demand for testing -- on top of cautionary tests for people who want peace of mind during the holiday.

A second day of drive-thru testing gets underway at 10 a.m. Tuesday at Bojangles Coliseum. Chopper 9 Skyzoom flew over the site on Monday and saw long lines of cars in the parking lot. Some people waited for three hours to get a test.

There will be COVID-19 testing at Bojangles Coliseum all week, except Thanksgiving, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Reporter Mark Becker was at the arena on Monday, and the turnout was so large, organizers had to start turning people away around 2 p.m.

Channel 9 spoke with several people in line who came to get tested before they get together with others for the holiday, which seemed to be the most popular reason to be in line.

The wait for testing on Monday was about three hours, and the wait for results will be about three days.

Channel 9 also spoke with a woman who came to the coliseum after the cut off time and is afraid she might actually have COVID-19, but couldn’t get a test anywhere.

“I’m having symptoms,” said Andrea Besson. “And I’m pretty frustrated because I think this is the fourth site I’ve been to today and they’ve all been full. So I’m trying to figure out where I can go to get tested.”

She said even her doctor’s office was too busy to give her a test, so she was going to try her luck at urgent care.

Another testing site will open on Tuesday from 9 a.m. until 4 p.m. at the county’s Southeast Health Department on Billingsley Road.

But if you wanted to know your test results before Thanksgiving, Monday was the deadline. According to the state, the average turn-around time to get results back is two and a half days.

>> Where are the COVID-19 testing sites in the Charlotte area?

The CEO of StarMed told Channel 9 two weeks ago their tests more than doubled in the last two weeks. It was evident by the line of cars seen from time to time at the Star Med’s Urgent Care Center on Tuckaseegee Road. At that particular site, the provider added a second tent and technician to keep up with the daily demand.

Channel 9 checked some of the most common testing options for people last week and here’s what we found:

  • CVS Pharmacy – There were no available testing appointments last week within a 15-mile radius of Channel 9′s studios. There was more availability at stores outside of Mecklenburg County. The CVS website says lab results can be expected in three to four days.
  • Walgreens – There were no available testing appointments at Charlotte locations last week. The Walgreens website says patients can expect results in three days.
  • BetterMed – There were no testing appointments available last week.
  • StarMed – You can register for an appointment on their website and go anytime they’re open, but you should prepare for the possibility of a line.

>> Check for more testing sites through the NCDHHS website

Zayona Scott and her family were at StarMed last week to get tested but said they don’t have symptoms. They’re just uncertain and worried.

“A lot of people that you know, that you don’t know, is catching it and it’s very scary because a lot of people are dying from it.” Scott said.

They want to be worry-free for Thanksgiving.

“We’re going to be around family a lot, so you don’t want to … like if you do you get it, you don’t want to expose it to anyone else or anything.”

>> Have questions about the coronavirus pandemic and its impact on the Carolinas? We have an entire section dedicated to coverage of the outbreak -- CLICK HERE FOR MORE.

Over the course of a month, Star Med went from 2,000-3,000 tests a week to 5,000-6,000 a week in the nine North Carolina counties they serve. The clinic said that with testing more than doubling, their Charlotte area testing sites are doing around 500 a day now.

>> Here are some Thanksgiving tips as NC tightens gathering limits

>> S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control guidelines for Thanksgiving

“I’m very proud of my staff. Yesterday, at one point, we had 40 to 50 people in a line,” said Dr. Arin Paramzadian, Chief Medical Officer of Star Med.

Mecklenburg County announced last week that it is expanding COVID-19 testing. Hours have been extended at the Health Department on Beatties Ford Road and people can get tested at the Target in University City starting Nov. 20 and the Bojangles Coliseum starting Nov. 23.

Paramzadian advises that you should give yourself five days before you need your test results, just to be on the safe side.

“Turnaround time is usually about 2 to 3 days. Now, obviously, as we get closer to Thanksgiving, that’s going to be a lot more people getting tested, so that’s going to push every lab in the country,” he said.

>>NC to provide COVID-19 tests to colleges, universities ahead of Thanksgiving break

Star Med staff said they’re also seeing more people with symptoms. They’ve added a second lab and a dozen technicians to handle it. Mike Estramonte, CEO of Star Med expressed confidence in his team’s abilities.

“We are ramping up to meet the needs of cold and flu season, especially around Thanksgiving a lot of people want to get tested," he said.

Paramzadian also said is a great idea to get tested before spending time with family. But he advised, if you get tested too early, there’s still the risk of getting infected in the meantime if you’re out and about.

While it is a good idea to get a COVID-19 test and have the results before Thanksgiving, health officials said it does not mean you are in the clear if your results come back negative.

This is very important if you are planning to visit or host anyone outside your household.

Health officials said you can always get infected after being tested or it can take time for the virus to build up in your body with an incubation period of up to two weeks. Some tests might not pick up on it early on.

“When you first get exposed to the coronavirus, your levels are pretty low and then they rapidly increase over the first five days,” Dr. Amy Compton-Phillips, Chief Clinical Officer at Providence Health System said.

“Let’s say yesterday I was exposed, if I go get tested today, I won’t be positive,” Dr. Ashish Jha, Dean of Brown University School of Public Health said. “But, in two or three days, I might be positive and I will start being infectious and spreading it even before I have symptoms.”

(Watch the video below as Eyewitness News anchor Blaine Tolison explains why a negative COVID-19 test does not mean you are “in the clear.”)

Doctors said the kind of test you get can make a difference, but there are some things to consider there too.

“So the antigen test we know have real issues with false negatives,” Compton-Phillips said. “The PCR test, the line between positive and negative is kind of inconclusive and so you heard early on in the pandemic when people would test negative and then test positive again and that’s because their viral load might be just going above and below that line and so that’s where you end up in this nebulous area that maybe you have it, maybe you don’t.”

According to Harvard Medical School, Molecular Type tests, the ones you need to wait a few days for have a false negative rate of two percent to 37 percent.

Antigen tests, which includes many rapid tests, Harvard says their rate of false negatives results is as high as 50 percent.