Getting a rapid Covid-19 test around the holidays is like trying to be the 9th caller in a radio station contest.
Except instead of the phone, you’re camped on your laptop, ready to strike if you’re lucky enough to find an open slot. I know because I had to get my daughter rapid-tested after she came home from college on Amtrak, and needed to be tested before attending a small Thanksgiving gathering.
I thought it would be easy. After all, readily available testing was touted as key to controlling the spread of Covid-19 when the virus emerged last winter. Yet eight months into the pandemic, it was nearly impossible to find a place to rapid test my daughter in the entire state of Connecticut.
Part of it was my fault. I assumed that I’d have no problem getting her tested. There is, after all, a drive-thru Covid-19 testing tent at the foot of the road leading to my house run by Yale-New Haven Hospital. There’s also CVS, where she was tested before she went to college in August, as well as DOCS Urgent Care 20 minutes away.
It didn’t seem like a big deal until it was. We went to DOCS, a rapid testing facility, three days before Thanksgiving and were told that we needed an appointment even though the website said drop-ins were OK. I told my daughter to relax, that I’d make an appointment for her when we got home.
But two hours later, I was still scrolling the Internet for an appointment. I couldn’t find an open slot between Greenwich and Mystic. Believe me, I tried. I even entered the names of some of the most rural towns I know, figuring their smaller population might yield a slot.
This tactic works well when going to the Social Security Administration. I avoid long lines in New Haven by going to a tiny third-floor office in Middletown. And even though SSA employees argue that I should go to New Haven because of where I live, I know that I can go to any office I want. It says so right on the SSA website, so don’t let anyone tell you differently.
But my rural strategy failed miserably for a Covid-19 test. There was a place where I could drive up and wait in line 20 minutes away, but the results wouldn’t be delivered for 5-7 days. That wasn’t going to work.
When I became frustrated, my daughter said that she’d stay home for Thanksgiving. But who was she kidding? She wanted to go to my sister’s house to see her cousins and their golden doodle puppy Cooper. And finding a testing site became a challenge: I slipped into my old reporter mode, determined to keep at it until I found a spot.
On a lark, I returned to the DOCS website about three hours later. Miraculously, there were four open spots on Wednesday. I moved faster than I have in months, typing in her information and searching for my phone so I could type in the texted confirmation number before it vanished.
And there it was: a confirmed test for Wednesday at 1:27 p.m.
The whole testing process took less than three minutes from the time we arrived and my daughter’s nose was swabbed. Less than an hour later, a DOCS nurse called to say she was negative.
We were happy: she could attend Thanksgiving dinner. But the question remains: why is it still so hard to get Covid-19 testing? I realize Thanksgiving created an unusually high demand, but shouldn’t Covid-19 testing sites anticipate and adjust?
And isn’t is unreasonable to expect people to wait for hours to get a test? The lines snaking around testing sites in the days leading up to Thanksgiving were incredibly long. Some New Yorkers were even paying people up to $80 an hour to hold their place in long testing lines.
Getting tested shouldn’t be an ordeal or money-making proposition. It should be a quick and simple process, like getting a flu shot at the local pharmacy.
Of course, this is the first Thanksgiving since the pandemic began, and testing sites clearly underestimated the enormous demand for tests, particularly rapid ones. But hopefully they’ll adequately prepare for the Christmas and New Year’s rush.
I can’t write about testing without mentioning that I think some people are monopolizing available time slots. I know of one person who had three Covid-19 tests in the days leading up to Thanksgiving, as did everyone in her family who planned to attend an over-sized gathering. Not only did this violate our state’s recommendations for small gatherings, but it prevented others from getting a single test. Not cool, at all.
As for me, I’m learning from Thanksgiving and scheduling a test for late December in hopes of attending a small New Year’s Eve party in Martha’s Vineyard. I don’t know if we’ll be able to go – everything is so up in the air these days – but I don’t want to do the pre-holiday testing scramble again. I’m pretty sure no one does.