Growing numbers of people seeking testing for COVID-19 — often before or after holiday travel — have faced long lines, scanty drugstore supplies of test kits, and sometimes testing staffs that have been inundated with work or shrunken by illness. The long waits have become the most visible outward sign of the newest wave of COVID-19 spread driven by the highly-contagious Omicron variant.
The sharp turnabout from the relatively calm conditions of just two months ago are captured in the jump in demand for testing agencies like OptumServe, which partners with Napa County to test visitors at the county Health and Human Services based in south Napa.
Daily tests provided by OptumServe in November, when the U.S. had emerged from a summertime surge fueled by COVID-19’s Delta variant, never exceeded 65 and dipped as low as 27 on Nov. 6, according to county figures. But the company’s daily test count reached 115 by Dec. 22 and has remained in triple digits ever since, peaking with 281 tests provided Jan. 5.
Sixteen people were hospitalized in Napa County on Thursday due to COVID-19, and no local intensive-care beds were available.
“We were processing about 1,500 tests a week this fall, when it seemed we were on the other side of the pandemic,” said Dr. Eric Grigsby, the founding chief executive of Neurovations, whose N3 Laboratories division performs COVID-19 testing in the city for schools, sports teams, and businesses. “Last Monday (Jan. 3), we did 2,000 tests in one day, and now we’re averaging 5,000 or 6,000 tests a week.”
The jump in testing demand caused Neurovations’ processing times to slip to three days late last week as the company staff — temporarily reduced by two due to COVID-19 illnesses — worked longer hours, although Grigsby said results are again being returned in one to two days.
“Honestly, we had people working all day and all night,” he said of the workload. “We knew how important it was to get people back to work and back to school. It’s hard to make decisions when you have to wait so long (for results).”