COVID-19 testing sites backed up as omicron variant circulates ahead of holidays

In the last two weeks, Washington state has averaged more than 1,500 new, likely cases of COVID-19 a day. And that's leading to a strain at testing sites in some areas. 

On Tuesday, there were very long lines of people waiting to be tested for COVID-19.

"The testing site is backed up for .4 miles it’s all the way down Aurora Avenue," Cosmo Nesbitt said.

The North Seattle testing location wasn’t the only place backed up, the SODO site was at max capacity on Tuesday.

"Everybody wants to travel, everybody wants to try new things and step out of their comfort zone," Nesbitt said.

With just days before Christmas and the highly transmissible Omicron variant circulating, many were motivated to get tested.

"I know you’re tired, I mean this, I know you’re frustrated, we all want this to be over, we are still in it, this is a critical moment," President Joe Biden said.

On Tuesday, Biden announced that the federal government will directly send at-home test kits for free to Americans. The federal government will stockpile half a billion tests.  In light of the news, FOX 13 asked the Washington Department of Health on how reliable the at home versions were.

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"The quick answer is they are good, but they are not perfect, and we are not entirely clear on how they work against Omicron," Dr. Scott Lindquist said.

Dr. Lindquist said if you get a negative result from an at-home test kit but have symptoms, he recommends getting a PCR test that is proven to be more reliable.

But state health experts know that at-home test kits are one more tool to help lessen the spread of COVID. But if you need one right now, it may be hard to get from store shelves with limited supply.

President Biden’s free at-home kits don’t go out until January. The White House says there will be a website for people to sign up to get one directly.

COVID-19 booster shots

Washington Secretary of Health Umair Shah is encouraging vaccines and even more importantly the booster for those who are eligible.

"Get boosted, get boosted, don’t wait," Dr. Shah said.

But for some, appointments continue to be challenging to snag. State health experts are aware of the backup and say they are working with federal authorities to speed up the process.

As of this week, around 75% of Washingtonians are fully vaccinated with 1.7 million people receiving the booster.

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"Waiting to get infected is not a smart strategy," Dr. Shah said.

"400,000 Americans have died from COVID this calendar year and almost are all unvaccinated, almost all were preventable," President Biden said.

But ultimately how people behave will come down to personal choice.

"Let us be free," Nesbitt said.

So far Omicron has not caused death or hospitalizations to go up in the state of Washington. Health officials say we still do not know enough about Omicron to predict how things will play out.

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