Americans Hunt for Virus Tests and the Assurance of Safe Holiday Gatherings

A coronavirus test took Matthew Phillips four hours to complete.

Until he found an appointment, Mr. Phillips, a 34-year-old Seattle resident, spent the morning of Wednesday searching through dozens of websites on his laptop. To top it all off, he had to wait another hour and a half in line once he finally arrived at the testing location.

The last thing he wants to hear is that he’ll be able to see his family for Christmas in Houston on Thursday if he doesn’t get a negative result.

Mr. Phillips remarked, “It does feel familiar.” A reoccurring nightmare is all we can feel like we’re doing.

An examination of the testing landscape revealed many of the practical, political, and other frustrations that have divided the nation’s response to the nearly two-year-old pandemic just one day after President Biden announced a refocus on testing.

People across the country are gearing up for trips to other states and family get-togethers in their own homes. Due to a lack of tests, many people are waiting in line for hours before being turned away. People without health insurance may put off getting tested because of the high cost or the prospect of having to miss work if they get a positive result. The virus’s seriousness is being downplayed by others, particularly in areas where the virus is prevalent.

Because of their scarcity, “it’s clear that there are some people who really believe in these tests,” says Preeti Malani, the University of Michigan’s chief health officer and professor of epidemiology and biostatistics. “But who are the people who need to be tested?”

As a result of the government’s vaccine push, testing supply and promotion are “not anywhere near where they need to be,” according to her.

According to an upcoming study in South Carolina, some of the same groups that were reluctant to embrace vaccination are also reluctant to get tested. It was found that African American and Hispanic residents were less likely to get tested because of issues obtaining testing, mistrust of the medical system or fear of missing work and wages if they tested positive.

Because of a lack of concern about the virus, conservatives were also less likely to get tested, she said.

The question is, “How do we get there?” The study’s lead author, Melissa Nolan, is an epidemiology professor at South Carolina’s University of South. Also, “we can’t just take it for granted that they don’t believe in testing or don’t want to be tested”;

Even though there are long lines at the Metro Public Health Department’s drug testing sites in Nashville, health officials believe that those numbers could be even higher.

Leslie Waller, the department’s epidemiologist, said, “We want to see everyone who is going out and about and interacting with people tested on a regular basis.” No such thing is happening right now, as far as we know.

According to Ms. Waller, people are finding it increasingly difficult to show up to work, childcare, and other commitments because of the numerous obstacles they face on a daily basis.

Others were appreciative, despite the fact that the testing process annoyed some people.

Carol Cowart waited in line with her granddaughter for about an hour at a city-run testing site in Nashville, listening to Taylor Swift songs together.

This group of people is “moving really fast,” Ms. Cowart commented. That’s the impression I get from looking around the room.

A friend had lunch with Ms. Cowart on Saturday, and the truth came to light. She was fine, but decided to be cautious. “I’ll have to eat Christmas dinner in my room if I come back positive,” she threatened.

Because people refuse to get vaccinated, it was “pretty frustrating,” she said.

I mean, what’s the big deal about getting vaccinated?” she pressed on.

As a 36-year-old New Jersey high school math and computer science teacher, Brian Orak said he had no intention of getting tested until he started experiencing symptoms.

I wouldn’t take the test because it would have a profoundly negative impact on my ability to teach and go to school,” said Mr. Orak, a vaccinated graduate student who also takes evening classes. In the event that I were to miss an exam or a presentation, my students would have an inferior educational experience.

He was sorry to have to miss work to get tested by Brandon Walker, 32, a Baltimore resident.

On Wednesday, he visited three different testing facilities in search of a test. He was turned away by the first and unable to find a parking spot at the second due to high demand. On Wednesday afternoon, he had been waiting for over three and a half hours and had still not received a call.

What You Need to Know About the Coronavirus Pandemic

In his search for a testing facility in Baltimore, “I’ve done quite a bit of running,” he said. Because everyone is clamouring for it right now, “I’ve exhausted all of my options in an attempt to stay ahead of the pack.”

In Livingston County, Mich., there has been no difficulty in obtaining testing, according to local health officials. The county’s emergency preparedness coordinator, Lindsay Gestro, says that “testing has been at our fingertips” because of the accessibility of at-home tests for the county’s mostly higher-income residents and the availability of free tests for families with children in school.

Officials are still frustrated by low testing numbers, she said. The county’s high positive rate of 16 percent suggests that cases are being undercounted.

“I don’t want to say that they’re over it — they’re kind of done dealing with Covid,” said Ms. Gestro, who noted that the largely conservative county never instituted Covid requirements beyond those imposed by the state,” said. Omicron appears to be less dangerous than earlier variants, according to some early reports from other countries.

Covid has spread rapidly across the county due to people’s hesitation to get tested in advance of holiday travel and gatherings, according to Ms. Gestro.

While waiting for test results or for when to get a test after exposure or before potentially exposing other people, she said, testing’s effectiveness in stopping the spread of the coronavirus has also been limited by enduring confusion over quarantine protocols.

For those who choose to get tested, like Queens resident Ashley Harper, they face long waits.

Before Ms. Harper and others in line could get a test, a site ran out of supplies. Next morning, at 8 a.m., the line was already around the block when she returned.

For hours on Wednesday, she stood outside a mobile testing van to take her test.

When she had to wait three hours to be tested, she said, “It’s frustrating.” That there aren’t more testing locations is upsetting to me.

Nevertheless, experts emphasise that the process does not end with a negative result.

Tests cannot predict the future, according to Gigi Gronvall, director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security. Many see it as a way to avoid punishment, but in reality, it’s just a snapshot in time.

Jamie McGee and Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs contributed to the reporting.