Local COVID-19 testing sites see multi-hour wait times as virus surges

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  • People wait at a COVID-19 testing site at Holyoke Community College on Tuesday. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • People wait at a drive through COVID-19 testing site at Holyoke Community College on Tuesday afternoon, Dec. 28, 2021. —STAFF PHOTO

  • Drivers pass each other as a line at a COVID-19 testing site at Holyoke Community College winds its way through parking lots M and N on Tuesday afternoon, Dec. 28, 2021. —STAFF PHOTO

  • Transformative Healthcare conducts COVID-19 testing at a drive through site at Holyoke Community College on Tuesday afternoon, Dec. 28, 2021. —STAFF PHOTO

  • People wait at a COVID-19 testing site at Holyoke Community College on Tuesday afternoon, Dec. 28, 2021. —STAFF PHOTO

  • A worker distributes information to drivers waiting at a COVID-19 testing site at Holyoke Community College on Tuesday afternoon, Dec. 28, 2021. —STAFF PHOTO

  • People wait at a COVID-19 testing site at Holyoke Community College on Tuesday afternoon, Dec. 28, 2021. —STAFF PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 12/29/2021 8:27:05 PM

HOLYOKE — This week, COVID-19 testing sites like Holyoke Community College’s Stop the Spread site have been detecting more than the virus that causes COVID-19. With wait times surpassing the three-hour mark, testers are detecting a high level of patience.

Lillian Romaniak left her home in West Springfield at 12:30 p.m. Tuesday to secure a spot in line at Transformative Healthcare’s free polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing site just before 1 p.m. After waiting more than two hours in the stop-and-go line of cars that spanned from the far corner of Lot M, next to the David M. Bartley Center for Athletics & Recreation, to Homestead Avenue at the intersection of Cherry Street, Romaniak could finally see the end of the line — some 15 cars ahead of her.

Romaniak sought a test after a family member tested positive just before Christmas. While in the line that included more than 150 carloads of people, she texted and phoned other relatives who were in line and also being tested that afternoon.

Farther back were Jolene Parrettie and Arthur Watt. While the couple had also waited more than two hours, their car had barely reached the halfway point of the line winding through the parking lot. After a family member tested positive, both Watt and Parrettie had to be tested.

“This was the only site close to us that we could find,” said Parrettie. “We drove here from Sturbridge. Both of us need negative tests in order to return to work.”

Even farther back in line was Kim Marino of Holyoke. After a small gathering over the holiday, Marino said, many in her circle have colds and now have to be tested.

In November, she was infected with COVID-19 and was sick for 16 days.

“For those who think that this pandemic is over, I’ve got news for you — it’s not,” she said.

While the lines seemed to inch forward without any real issue, the occasional horn beep would beckon others, encouraging the line to move just a tad bit faster.

Lines into Holyoke Community College began forming around 1 p.m. for the 2 p.m. opening. The site cut off admission before 4:30 p.m. as a worker indicated that there was a three-hour wait and traffic on Homestead Avenue was backed up onto Cherry Street at the traffic lights.

Lines were cut off before 4:30 p.m. as traffic spilled over onto Route 202.

Tests by appointment

Unlike Holyoke’s Stop the Spread sites on Homestead Avenue as well as the War Memorial location at 310 Appleton St., many testing sites require appointments.

Earlier this month, the Easthampton Health Department partnered with California-based health services firm Curative to offer free COVID-19 testing. However, the high number of walk-ins to the testing site has led the department to transition to appointment-only availability, said Health Director Bri Eichstaedt.

“Yes, lines have been increasingly longer and we assume that’s due to the holiday. This is great, because we want people to test before (and after) gathering for holidays/events. However, unfortunately, lines have been very long,” said Eichstaedt.

Starting Jan. 4, the Easthampton Health Department is moving from City Hall to Millside Park, at 2 Ferry St. The new site will be drive-through and by appointment only.

Appointments will be available on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 8:30 to 11:30 a.m. and Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

With the new site being held outside, Eichstaedt cautioned that closures might occur in the event of inclement weather or dangerously low temperatures. Those with appointments will be notified of the closure directly from Curative.

Pharmacy tests

Outside of community-based health department hosted sites, pharmacy store chains like Walgreens and CVS continue to provide free testing. Availability for free COVID-19 testing appointments fluctuates daily and is limited in many areas of the country leading up to the holidays, according to a statement provided by Walgreens spokesperson Kris Lathan.

“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,” the statement read.

Walgreens and CVS say they’ve also seen an increase in demand for rapid over-the-counter COVID-19 tests. Walgreens has enacted a four-item purchase limit on the at-home antigen testing products. CVS has enacted a six-item purchase limit, according to CVS spokesperson Tara Burke.

“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,” said Burke in a statement.

Emily Thurlow can be reached at ethurlow@gazettenet.com
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