As cases rise in Virginia, so does demand for COVID-19 tests


A medical worker wears personal protective equipment (PPE) as she uses a swab to perform a diagnostic PCR test for coronavirus (Covid-19) on an arriving passenger at a testing booth in Roissy-Charles de Gaulle Airport, north-east of Paris on February 13, 2021. (Photo by BERTRAND GUAY / AFP) (Photo by BERTRAND GUAY/AFP via Getty Images)

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) – Early this summer, the number of coronavirus tests conducted each day in Virginia saw a sharp decline as cases fell amid rising vaccination rates. 

With the emergence of the highly contagious Delta variant driving up case counts and pushing localities and companies to impose vaccine requirements, the demand for COVID-19 tests has surged. 

Genetworx, a diagnostic laboratory company in Glen Allen, has performed over 7 million COVID-19 tests during the pandemic for its customers, which includes health care providers, government agencies, universities and other institutions.

The company had to cut 61 jobs earlier this summer as demand for tests waned, according to filings submitted with the Virginia Employment Commission in June.

Now, faced with an increased demand for testing, Genetworx is hiring.

“We feel really confident to meet the surge, but we have seen daily numbers [of test results] that are 50 to 75%, depending on the day, higher than last month,” Sarah Jacobs-Helber, Genetworx’s chief laboratory officer, said in an interview Monday.

Jacobs-Helber added Genetworx plans to bring in no less than 50 new people as the company anticipates to increase testing through the new year. She also said that Genetworx saw the surge coming, explaining that testing demand comes in waves.

“It goes up and comes back down, but there’s definitely been an upward trend now,” Jacobs-Helber said.

For example, the Virginia Department of Health reported a total of 11,515 PCR test encounters on July 23. One month later, that number jumped to 20,629.

Graph showing trend of the number of cases by the day closest to when symptoms began (Source: Virginia Department of Health)
Graph showing trend of the total number of PCR test encounters in all Va. health districts (Source: Virginia Department of Health)
Graph showing trend of the total number of antigen test encounters in all Va. health districts (Source: Virginia Department of Health)

This rising demand for COVID-19 tests comes as unvaccinated state employees will soon be required to provide weekly test results, if they decide not to get vaccinated, under a mandate imposed by Gov. Ralph Northam.

VDH recommends that people with symptoms, regardless of their vaccination status, should get tested for COVID-19. The health department calls for those considered a close contact of someone believed to have been infected, with different timelines for the vaccinated and unvaccinated, to also get tested.

A CVS spokeswoman said that the pharmacy has been able to meet the demand for testing in most locations, despite “increasing numbers of patients seeking out tests.” In an email Monday, the spokeswoman said CVS is seeing a growing demand for tests that people can take home.

“We are experiencing high demand for over-the-counter testing products and are working with our suppliers to meet that demand,” CVS spokeswoman Amy Thibault wrote. “In the event that any of our stores experience a temporary shortage, we will re-supply them as quickly as possible.”

The urgent care center Patient First will perform testing for those who have COVID-19 symptoms, but have asked those not experiencing symptoms to reach out to their local pharmacy “due to extremely high patient volumes” since Aug. 28. Taylor Robertson, a spokesman for Patient First, told 8News that they are not experiencing any difficulties obtaining tests or supplies.

Despite the increasing demand, VDH says COVID-19 tests are widely available to those seeking one. The department has partnered with Walgreens to offer free rapid antigen tests at select locations.

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