Pre-holiday testing means long waits, delayed results
Posted November 21, 2020 6:27 p.m. EST
Updated November 24, 2020 7:35 p.m. EST
Wake Forest, N.C. — Even without an appointment, Wake County officials said they won't turn anyone away for a coronavirus test at two sites, but the rush for testing could delay results.
People hoping to get a free test at county-run sites off Sunnybrook Road in Raleigh and at Radeas Labs in Wake Forest are asked to pre-register online before showing up, but two days before Thanksgiving, appointment slots are full.
Cars wrapped around the parking lot at the Raleigh site on Tuesday afternoon. People are trying to get tested before the Thanksgiving holiday even as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention asks Americans to stay home and avoid gathering with extended family.
The number of tests administered at the two sites has more than doubled from a month ago, from 11,252 tests in the first three weeks of October to 26,360 tests in the first three weeks of November.
The state Department of Health and Human Services reported that 36,407 tests were completed Monday, and 56,541 were done last Friday.
Testing companies said they are are experiencing a delay in test results because of the influx of people rushing to get tested ahead of Thanksgiving after health officials warned that large holiday celebrations could spread the virus.
LabCorp said it's experiencing a rise in demand for testing across the nation, even though its labs are operating 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Quest Diagnostics said its average turnaround time for reporting test results is now two to three days.
A negative test does not guarantee you don't have coronavirus and that you won't infect others. If someone is infected with the virus, it can take a couple days before their test result registers positive.
The Wake Forest site offers DIY tests. Drivers pull up, are handed a test kit, flash their hazard lights when they're done, and the kit is collected and sent off for testing. Although people are promised results within 24 to 48 hours, officials said the turnaround time has averaged 11 hours
"I did not have an appointment. It was amazing – in and out in five minutes," said Mary Hutter, who was tested Monday.
"It was so efficient. It was very similar to an efficient Chick-fil-A drive-thru," Sue Clayton agreed.
"We’ve been careful the last 10 months as a family, and unfortunately, I came into direct exposure to COVID," Clayton said to explain her reason for lining up to be tested.
She said she doesn't have any symptoms of the virus but wanted to play it safe.
Hutter said she got tested because her in-laws are going to her house for Thanksgiving. Her son had the virus in July, she said.
The demand for tests was so high over the weekend that police had to be called to a site on Kildaire Farm Road in Cary to direct traffic.
Many testing slots at local CVS and Walgreens stores also have been filled in advance of the holiday.
Even if a virus test result comes back before Thanksgiving, health experts say it's still not a guarantee that you aren't contagious. After someone is exposed to the virus, it can be several days before they show symptoms or test positive.
The best bet, local and national health experts say, is to stay home and celebrate with members of your immediate household only. Even people with a negative test should practice social distancing if they decide to gather with extended family.
State health officials said they are not surprised by the overwhelming amount of people who want to get tested before the holidays, and they've boosted coverage in anticipation of the rush to get tested.
But if you do plan to travel, officials say:
- Quarantine and isolate as much as you can before you travel
- Test before you leave
- Test when you return home
- Always wear a mask
- Wash your hands and sanitize your surroundings