Many in New Hampshire are choosing to travel or get together with family this Thanksgiving, despite state and federal guidance to the contrary – and the demand for COVID-19 tests is increasing as a result.
That has meant longer wait times for a test, and for results, according to local health officials.
“We’ve been fully booked over the last few weeks. I think every single one of our clinics has been at or near capacity,” said Phil Alexakos, chief operations officer of the Manchester Health Department.
But health workers say it’s also because more people are becoming exposed to someone with COVID-19, or are experiencing symptoms themselves.
Over the summer, Manchester’s two city testing sites typically did around 70 to 80 tests per day. In the past few weeks, as case numbers and hospitalizations have surged in New Hampshire, all 150 daily testing appointment slots have been filled.
Due to the higher demand, wait times for results have also increased from one to two days to three to four days.
Rachel Cole says she has been trying to get a COVID-19 test for three days at testing locations across the state and has been unsuccessful. She’s asymptomatic, but lives with a health care provider who may have been exposed to COVID-19 at the workplace.
“....I tried to go to ClearChoice MD, CVS, Rite Aid, Walgreens, my PCP...and everyone basically had the same message, which is, they’re not taking appointments and to try back first thing in the morning, sort of like a lottery system,” Cole said.
Experts say community transmission – or becoming infected with the virus with no clear source or risk factor – is becoming a primary mode of how the virus spreads, as opposed to last spring, when travel and clusters were the most common ways of getting COVID-19.
“It might be that people are being more preventative, because they want to travel. So they’re using the testing that way. And then we have people who have been named as contact to these clusters,” said Bobbie Bagley, director of Nashua Public Health and Community Services.
Bagley said people shouldn’t be using testing as a preventative measure, and instead should take other precautions and avoid travel and holiday gatherings with those outside of their immediate household if possible.
Alexakos, in Manchester, said getting a negative COVID-19 test does not necessarily mean it is safe to travel this week.
“A COVID test is a snapshot in time,” Alexakos said. "If I wanted to be tested and I test on Tuesday, get my results on Wednesday, let's say, and it's negative, that doesn't mean that you're not potentially incubating the virus and could both test positive and be infectious the day after you have a test,” he said.
At least one area of the state, Coos County, has seen a decline in the demand for tests recently.
“We had a spike in the request for testing after the outbreak that occurred up this way a couple weeks ago. And since the demand for testing has sort of tapered down again,” said Ken Gordon, CEO at Coos County Family Health Services.
Alexakos and Bagley say that there is not currently any concern for testing and supply shortages in their respective departments, as materials are set aside and reserved for potential clusters or vulnerable populations.