RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — As coronavirus cases surge throughout Virginia, the demand for COVID-19 tests is increasing. But with a lull in the number of tests being provided in June and July, local residents are a reporting challenges with finding a test in a timely manner.
According to Communicable Disease Public Health Nurse Supervisor Joanna Cirillo with the Richmond City Health Department, the demand for COVID-19 tests is on the rise in Central Virginia.
“A lot of folks still utilize our call center to find out where they can get tested. So we’ve seen more folks calling and asking,” Cirillo said. “We’ve also seen more folks coming to our community testing events. We’ve been doing these open, public, free testing events this whole time. But in June and July, we really saw a dip in demand.”
During the early summer months, Cirillo told 8News that as few as 10 residents might come to a free community testing event on a given day. Since June and July, she said that number has increased to about 50. But the events, depending on location, have the capacity to test between 90 and 300 individuals.
“We’re really nowhere near where we were at peak of winter or late fall,” Cirillo said. “We still have a good amount of capacity, and we’re planning for more. We’re planning for a busy fall, a busy winter — we’re looking to almost double our capacity, if needed.”
But at pharmacies and urgent care centers in the greater Richmond area, local resident Kim Allen fears that the renewed demand for COVID-19 testing is outpacing the ability to administer tests.
This past weekend, Allen said she was looking for a COVID-19 test for her 72-year-old mother, who developed a fever and cold-like symptoms.
“I started to look online to make an appointment to get her a test, and I looked at CVS and Walgreens and BetterMed, and the earliest I could find was an appointment for Thursday,” she said.
After several days of trying to make an earlier appointment, Allen said she was ultimately able to secure an appointment for her mother to receive a PCR COVID-19 test on Wednesday.
“Being that she is older and not really knowing what was going on and her not feeling well, I didn’t really want to have to wait,” Allen said of her mother. “I’m having a really hard time finding the tests.”
Allen said she even waited on BetterMed Urgent Care’s website for new appointments to open up at 5 a.m., but they were almost instantly filled by others trying to get a COVID-19 test. She also told 8News that her mother’s primary care physician would not perform a test for the virus directly at that office, nor could she find a nearby community testing event.
“We know that COVID-19 rates are going up higher and if we don’t have the ability to test for it, there could be people out there spreading this and not even knowing,” Allen said.”[My mother] is older and I don’t know if it’s COVID-19. Her doctor’s office wouldn’t see her, and so if it is not COVID-19, she’s going a week with maybe something potentially that she could have been seen and treated sooner.”
Allen said that when she called her mother’s primary care physician’s office, she was told to treat the illness as if it was COVID-19, out of an abundance of caution, and take vitamins C and D, as well as zinc. Allen said her father, also in his 70s, has been wearing a mask at home around his wife since she fell ill.
With three children of her own, Allen is concerned that the demand for testing will only increase, possibly making it more difficult to find a COVID-19 test.
“My younger ones are just vulnerable to it, and so I anticipate there to be a lot more exposures and a lot more testing that’s needed,” she said. “I’m wondering if we’re going to be in this constant cycle of […] isolating kids, not being able to send them back because we don’t have the tests to be able to say they have it or not, and also just passing it around.”
This is an issue that was addressed at Monday’s Richmond School Board meeting. The school division announced that it would be partnering with the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) on a pilot testing program this fall. According to the COVID-19 protocol overview presented at the meeting, the Virginia School Screening Testing for Assurance (ViSSTA) program will offer COVID-19 testing to K-12 schools throughout the commonwealth for the upcoming academic year. Richmond Public Schools officials said that the testing would be intended for students, staff and teachers, and would be voluntary.
“Very early on, obviously, in the pandemic, it was hard to test. But I know that was everywhere. It did get better here,” Allen said. “I definitely have seen it get worse again, to the point of what it was before, what it seems like.”
Even on the BetterMed website, patients are warned of “an increase in patient volume,” yielding a requirement for appointment reservations for all COVID-19 medical evaluations and testing. Walk-ins are still welcome for all other urgent care needs.
For those having difficulties getting a COVID-19 test, Cirillo suggested purchasing an at-home testing kit, which can be bought at drug stores. In the event that an at-home test produces a positive result for COVID-19, she said it is advised for the individual to receive a secondary test to confirm the result with a testing provider.