MECKLENBURG COUNTY, N.C. — As many prepare to hit the road for the holidays, lines for COVID-19 tests in Charlotte have surged. For those looking to get tested before Christmas, it's going to require some patience.
Access to in-person COVID-19 tests
The StarMed COVID-19 testing location on Tuckaseegee Road has seen lines wrapped around the building in recent days. StarMed CEO Mike Estramonte said while COVID-19 results are typically ready within 24 to 36 hours, it could take longer due to increased demand.
“We’re probably going to be closer to 48 right now, we’ve added an extra shift to our lab here in Charlotte so we’re going to get back to the 24-36 hopefully within the next couple of days," Estramonte said.
But some have been hoping to skip the lines completely, opting for the at-home COVID-19 tests instead. Several Mecklenburg County libraries are handing out free COVID-19 tests, which are now high in demand.
Mecklenburg County Public Health confirmed on Dec. 20 the number of kits at each Mecklenburg County location was limited due to nationwide supply chain issues.
Both Walgreens and CVS have limited how many at-home COVID-19 tests customers can purchase due to increased demand, according to CNBC. Walgreens is limiting customers at four at-home tests per purchase, and CVS is placing the limit at six tests.
Estramonte said he's happy to know people are taking the omicron variant seriously.
“I know everybody's got COVID fatigue but it's very serious -- and we employ a lot of nurses that used to work in the COVID ICU," he said. "They’ll be the first to tell you – don’t mess around with this virus.”
In a speech Tuesday afternoon, President Joe Biden said the government would be purchasing 500 million coronavirus rapid tests and shipping them free to Americans starting in January.
Impact of at-home COVID-19 tests
But once people finally receive an at-home test, another issue arises: it can make it harder to track just how many people have the virus.
Mecklenburg County, like other agencies, closely monitors the percent-positive metric regarding how many COVID-19 tests come back positive of all the tests taken by county residents.
Soon-to-be Mecklenburg County Health Director Dr. Raynard Washington said the specimen collected in a COVID-19 test goes to a lab, which uses an electronic connection to North Carolina's disease reporting system. From there, Mecklenburg County Health can pull testing data for county residents.
But some forms of COVID-19 tests are not factored in the percent-positive rate. Among them: at-home tests.
"There's no consistent way for individuals to report the results of the at-home test kits, so those are not included in any estimates -- they're not included in any daily test counts either," Washington said.
About 80% to 85% of people are still relying on PCR tests, Washington said, which is used to get the county's percent-positive rate.
"Obviously everyone who gets COVID isn't getting tested and hasn't been tested," he said. "If anything, it's an underestimate. So, I do feel confident the metric is helpful for us to understand what's happening in terms of transmission."