COVID testing demand skyrockets in Charlotte

COVID testing demand skyrockets in Charlotte

Photo courtesy Atrium Health

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If you’re planning to get a COVID-19 test in Charlotte, be prepared to wait a while.

What’s happening: Demand for COVID-19 testing in the Charlotte area has surged in recent months as the Delta variant spread. At some spots, people wind up waiting in line for hours. At-home tests from stores like CVS and Walgreens are increasingly hard to find.

On July 19, Novant administered 444 tests in the greater Charlotte market. By September 7, that number had spiked to 1,646, and it rose again to 1,850 on September 15.

  • By September 20, the number had plateaued at 1,655.

Novant attributes this rise to more illness in the community because of the Delta variant — plus the fact that it’s back-to-school season.

  • In response to the demand, Novant has opened a handful of new testing centers around the state, including an East Mecklenburg location on Independence.
  • Novant is advising that it’s gearing its testing toward symptomatic patients, or asymptomatic patients who’ve been exposed. Asymptomatic patients who seek testing just to be sure they don’t have COVID should explore other testing options, Novant says.

StarMed says it has performed nearly 50% more COVID tests this past week (Sept. 13-Sept. 19) when compared to the last full week of August (Aug. 23-Aug. 29). There are several reasons for the increase:

  • More people are going back to work, and employers are requiring regular testing for unvaccinated workers.
  • Plus, school is back in session and students and staff must meet certain testing protocols, spokesperson Michelle Serdula says.

In response, StarMed is adding three to four new sites in Mecklenburg County, plus additional ones in other counties around the state, she adds.

Atrium Health tested more people for COVID in August than in any month since January of this year, spokesperson Dan Fogleman tells Axios. The number for September is tracking similar to August.

  • In the past week, Atrium began to increase testing access and capacity by more than 30%, he added.
  • Atrium cited the return to school, work and college — as well as the surge of the delta variant — for the increased testing demand.

It’s not just Charlotte where demand for testing is surging.

  • In Des Moines, residents reported waiting hours to get a rapid test, Axios Des Moines reported.
  • In Greensboro, since late June the number of tests Cone Health administered has doubled, the News & Record reported.

A spokesperson for test manufacturer Abbott called demand “unprecedented,” per the paper. Abbott’s two-pack at-home antigen test BinaxNOW costs about $24 retail.

What’s next: Relief may be coming, at least for those seeking at-home tests. This month, President Joe Biden said he would invoke the Defense Production Act to make 280 million rapid COVID tests available, according to Kaiser Health News.

  • The government made a deal with Walmart, Amazon and Kroger for them to sell COVID tests for “up to 35% less” than current retail prices for three months, per KHN.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated with the correct location of Novant’s new Charlotte testing location.

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