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Demand for rapid COVID-19 tests soars amid holidays

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As locals scramble to protect themselves against the omicron variant of COVID-19 ahead of the holidays, the San Luis Obispo County Public Health Department announced that it's hosting a one-day, free rapid testing clinic on Dec. 23 in Grover Beach.

Demand for COVID-19 testing has soared due to omicron and the holidays, but most community test sites use PCR tests, which typically take two to three days to process.

Rapid test kits (antigen tests), where results are ready in minutes, are available to purchase at drugstores like CVS, Walgreens, and Rite Aid, but the chains are struggling to keep up with the demand across the country.

RAPID TEST Take-home COVID-19 tests were in short supply ahead of Christmas weekend. - FILE PHOTO
  • FILE PHOTO
  • RAPID TEST Take-home COVID-19 tests were in short supply ahead of Christmas weekend.

Test kits are flying off store shelves in SLO County, leaving many shoppers empty handed. Stores recently started to ration the number of kits customers can purchase at one time to four or six.

"We have been hearing from quite a few community members that at-home test kits are in short supply at local stores," SLO Public Health spokesperson Michelle Shoresman told New Times in an email. "This is likely to continue for some time aswe know more and more people are seeking to use them."

The shortage prompted SLO County to mobilize its rapid testing clinic at Ramona Gardens Park in Grover Beach on Dec. 23. Tests will be available for the first 150 people (age 2 and older) who come between the hours of 9 a.m. and 2 p.m., and results will be available in 15 minutes.

"COVID-19 testing is more important than ever as cases are increasing and we've identified the highly contagious omicron variant here in SLO County," Public Health Officer Penny Borenstein said in a Dec. 21 press release. "Please take time to 'know before you go or gather' this holiday season so you can enjoy the company of family and friends more safely."

Shoresman said the county plans to host a similar rapid testing clinic ahead of the New Year's weekend, with details forthcoming.

Families in the San Luis Coastal Unified School District recently got access to rapid COVID-19 test kits as part of a California Department of Public Health initiative. Students, parents, and staff in the district were invited to pick up test kits at school sites through Dec. 22.

In a speech to the nation on Dec. 21, President Biden promised to make 500 million free rapid test kits available to citizens as part of his administration's broader plan to address the omicron variant.

As of Dec. 21, SLO County had 334 active COVID-19 cases, with 16 people in the hospital and six in ICUs. COVID-19 has killed 371 residents to date, with more than 73 percent of those deaths since June 15 occuring in residents who were not fully vaccinated.

SLO County had detected one case of the omicron variant as of Dec. 21, but Shoresman said the real number of cases is probably higher.

"Likely there are more," she said. "Only a small number of cases across the state continue to be sequenced and often ... those sequencing results are delayed."

If you test positive for COVID-19 using an at-home test, Public Health asks that you report that result at slopublichealth.org/testing. Δ

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