Locals struggle to find COVID-19 tests and appointments

NEW HANOVER COUNTY (WWAY) — With COVID-19 levels rising across the country and more people traveling for the holidays, the demand for COVID tests has shot up.

Pharmacies like CVS and Walgreens have seen such a rapid demand for at-home COVID tests, they’ve had to limit how many customers can buy. Some COVID testing sites are booked through the middle of January.

After playing in a local Christmas musical, Laura York said she began to feel congested. Believing her allergies were acting up, she doubled up on medication, masked up, and tried to find a COVID-19 booster shot appointment.

“I had both doses of Pfizer back in April,” York said. “But I hadn’t gotten the booster yet, just because I had been so busy. I didn’t want to take time off and possibly have side effects from that.”

But when cast and crew in the musical began to test positive, dozens of men and women, including York, were notified they had been exposed. She checked pharmacies across the area searching for tests. After striking out at her second pharmacy, she began to worry about exposing her family coming into town for the holiday.

“Like what if I can’t get proof and my brother comes and I get their family sick,” she remembered thinking. “So I was a bit nervous, but I was like, I gotta find one.”

Across town, Pine Valley Baptist Church cancelled their Christmas Eve service when staff was notified of a COVID exposure. Pastor Bryan Blackwell searched high and low for appointments and tests… to no avail.

While looking around CVS, Blackwell said, “One of the employees came up and said, ‘I hope you’re not looking for an at home COVID test. Because I don’t know anywhere in the vicinity that has any. People have been in here all day looking for one.'”

Hours of searching later, Blackwell worried what this could mean for those he knew and loved.

“You know, if you can’t find a test, you’ve got to put on Sunday service,” he said. “Then you have to get the word out and get it to hundreds of people and make sure nobody shows up. Then there’s what about my wife? What about my family? Do they need to quarantine? The stress begins to pile up.”

After days of searching, both York and Blackwell found take home tests. York found hers in Carolina Beach: the last test in the store.

“I didn’t see any, and they were like, ‘Oh, we don’t have any.’ But the other lady was like, ‘Oh wait, we have one more!’ So I was lucky, I got the last one,” York said.

York tested positive on Christmas Eve. She cancelled plans with family to keep them safe, but she had her regrets.

“I think the booster would have kept me from getting this,” York said. “I just didn’t want to be inconvenienced with two days sick, and I end up with 10 days instead.”

Grateful to finally get a test, Blackwell was relieved when he tested negative. “It felt like Christmas,” he laughed.

We reached out to Walgreens and CVS about this increase in demand for tests. Walgreens responded in part:

“As the nation experiences a surge in COVID-19 cases coinciding with the holidays, we are seeing unprecedented demand for related testing and vaccine services and products. We remain committed to offering convenient access to COVID-19 vaccinations and testing services and products that are critical to helping protect our communities.”

CVS responded:

To ensure equitable access to tests both in store and digitally, we’ve added a limit of six test kits per purchase. Due to a recent surge in demand, and to retain community-based access to tests in our stores, there may be temporary out-of-stocks for these products on CVS.com. We’re committed to providing families with protection and peace of mind during the holiday season, and we continue to offer access to lab-based testing with results available in 1-2 days or rapid COVID-19 testing at more than 4,800 CVS Pharmacy locations.”

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