Residents hunting down COVID-19 tests this week are still being met with long lines, limited supply and, in one case, a public testing site that unexpectedly closed.
COVID-19 cases around Florida and across the nation have surged after the holidays. The Treasure Coast saw a 346% increase in positive cases last week, or about 1,100 more than the previous week.
The Florida Department of Health website allows users to search for the nearest testing site, but with the record virus exposures and high demand for tests, testing sites' hours and supply vary.
Free at-home test kits: St. Lucie County, Health Department giving away 5,000 at-home COVID-19 tests Wednesday
A walk-up testing site at the Florida Department of Health in St. Lucie County was unexpectedly closed Monday, despite its usual weekday schedule. Dozens of people looking to get tested came to the site, found it was deserted and waited in the parking lot for hours, confused.
"I got here around 10:50, and nobody showed up," said Carolina Aviles, who waited at the site for more than 90 minutes. She heard the site would reopen at noon. But it didn't.
Aviles said she had been feeling sick for five days, but finally decided to be tested when she started feeling worse. She couldn't find any other testing sites open that day, she said.
Later in the afternoon, a sign was posted saying the site was closed for the day. Allied Health, the company that operates the free testing site, couldn't be reached for comment about the closure, whether it was because of short staffing or because of limited test supply.
Pharmacies such as CVS and Walgreens sell at-home testing kits, but since the holidays, many stores have been sold out. Both companies have temporarily stopped selling the kits online.
Both pharmacies offer in-person lab tests, but require appointments. In most cases, appointment-based tests are unavailable for days.
On Tuesday, the state Health Department in St. Lucie County said it would distribute 5,000 take-home COVID-19 tests to residents at several county libraries starting Wednesday.
For those searching for quick results, waiting days isn't an option.
"I'm trying to make sure I don't infect anyone else," said Mike Stringham, 41. Stringham said he and his family looked for tests Monday and Tuesday morning, but had no luck at local pharmacies or clinics.
Some locations were booking appointments a week in advance, he said. Stringham waited in line for more than an hour to be tested at the Martin County Fairgrounds, where hundreds of people sat in line in their cars, Tuesday, waiting to be tested.
The Martin County site, operated by Dynix Diagnostix, offers free, walk-up PCR and rapid tests 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily. Site manager James Haney said people should anticipate having to wait a while.
"If they get here at 8 o'clock in the morning, it's 20 minutes. If they get here [at noon], it's about an hour and a half, two hours," Haney said.
Because of the lack of appointments and shortage of at-home tests, isng kits, walk-up first-come first-served sites such as the Martin County Fairgrounds have been slammed with hundreds of people every day for the past several weeks. Haney said 300-400 people are getting tested thereevery day.
"I heard that there was a shortage of self tests, so I was like, 'Well, I guess I should jump in this god-awful line," said Duke Snyder, 54.
Snyder said he wasn't feeling sick, but decided to get tested because he was exposed to someone who tested positive. He waited in line for at least an hour.
Some people, though, were grateful to be tested tests at all.
"I think they're doing a great job here," said Tamara Litterick, 46, who waited for about two hours. "They're going as quick as they can. There's just a lot of people."
She spent 90 minutes searching for an appointment Tuesday morning, but couldn't find an available time slot until Thursday. Her son was feeling sick, so she didn't want to wait any longer.
This article originally appeared on Treasure Coast Newspapers: COVID Florida: At-home rapid tests sold out, long lines at PCR sites