‘Constant stream’: Long lines continue after holiday weekend at COVID-19 testing sites

CHARLOTTE — COVID-19 testing is in high demand in Mecklenburg County forcing patients to wait in long lines to get the shot. This comes as health officials express concerns about the possible spread of the omicron variant throughout the county.

“It’s been a constant stream,” said StarMed CEO Dr. Michael Estramonte. “Positivity rate is definitely up. These lines we’re seeing for testing exceed the lines we saw last year at this time, so omicron is definitely having an impact here in North Carolina.”

The wait times at StarMed’s Tuckaseegee Road location were around two hours long on Monday, which was shorter than some of the lines over the holiday weekend.

Estramonte said about 50% of the people in line Monday had COVID-19 symptoms.

“Last year at this time, more people were worried about exposure and family,” he said. “Most people coming here are coming in because they actually have symptoms.”

Charlotte had the highest volume StarMed has seen between Dec. 20 and Dec. 26, he said.

There were 18,900 tests administered. The positivity rate was 13.5% across all patients. The Tuckaseegee Road location experienced a positivity rate of more than 21%. StarMed’s second-highest testing volume was the same week in 2020 with a positivity rate of 6%.

Everyone’s patience has been wearing thin for a while as the spread of COVID-19 moves into its third year.

“I’m tired of it, too,” resident Jasmine Corvett said. “I’m ready for it to be over. Just some kind of closure from it. But whatever we need to stay safe and keep the community safe, that’s what we need to do.”

Many are asking if COVID-19 is here to stay.

“I do believe so,” Estramonte said. “COVID’s probably not going to be going anywhere for at least another year or two. And if it does become one of those things where you have to get a regular booster to protect your family. It’s a mindset shift. There’s no doubt about it. But hopefully it works itself out like other pandemics we’ve seen on record. And it’ll work its way out in the next few years.”

Testing over the holiday weekend

While many families spent Christmas morning opening gifts, countless others headed out of the door to get tested for COVID-19.

StarMed’s drive-thru was held for those in need of a COVID-19 test or antibody therapy Saturday afternoon.

Long lines and extended wait times were to be expected on Christmas as state and federal health experts warned people to get tested ahead of the holidays.

“Within the last seven days, our testing has quadrupled from the week before,” Estramonte told Channel 9 Saturday.

However, some people said they were actually getting tested because they needed to receive a negative COVID-19 test before they would be allowed to fly internationally.

They said they were not expecting the rush on the actual holiday.

“We’ve been here for three hours. They’re obviously doing what they can,” one person told Channel 9. “I think the pressure is on the people who provide the service.”

Some waited hours to get their test in a line of cars that stretched at least half a mile down the street.

With reduced holiday hours, a StarMed site supervisor told Channel 9 that unfortunately, some people had to be turned away.

“We can’t service as many as we would like, but we did what we could,” site supervisor Aramus Conrad said.

StarMed officials said they expect testing to surge again once people return from holiday gatherings. Conrad said the testing site will be open and ready to serve the community.

“When they could be with their families, they stuck it out. They did an amazing, amazing job,” Conrad said.

All StarMed Health locations returned to normal business hours Sunday after Christmas.

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