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VDH: Overwhelming demand, staff shortages impacting COVID-19 testing

A medical technician performs a nasal swab test on a motorist queued up in a line at a COVID-19 testing site in Colorado.
David Zalubowski
A medical technician performs a nasal swab test on a motorist queued up in a line at a COVID-19 testing site in Colorado.

As omicron-variant cases have surged in Virginia so has the demand for testing.

Doctor Laurie Forlano says the state and the Department of Health have adequate supplies and capacity for sensitive PCR testing. Forlano is deputy director of the health department’s Office of Epidemiology. "This surge is being fueled by a variant that is just very, very transmissible and is resulting in very high case numbers, very high numbers of exposures. And it is hard to keep pace with that," she said in a call with reporters Tuesday morning.

Forlano says while the health department has organized large community testing events, the majority of COVID-19 testing is conducted by private health providers and pharmacies. And they’re all struggling to keep employees healthy and on the job. "They are being impacted by COVID-19 illness or exposure. That means there are some times workers who need to be out of work which is impacting capacity for health care settings to staff testing clinics in order to collect the specimens."

Forlano says it’s still important for anyone experiencing COVID-19 symptoms and those who have had a close contact with a known case to be tested. But those who want a test before a gathering or travel should considering postponing the event if possible.

Forlano says a combination of demand and supply problems are creating a shortage of at-home, rapid antigen test kits. And it may last for some time.

Community testing centers to open around the state

The state is opening nine community testing centers.

The first one will open Saturday, Jan 8 at Richmond International Raceway. Others will follow near existing community vaccination centers including Charlottesville, Chesterfield, Fredericksburg and Roanoke.

The governor’s office says the testing centers will be open 4 to 6 days a week and are expected to conduct 50,000 PCR tests this month.

Roanoke area seeing record case numbers

The Roanoke region has seen a record number of new cases over the past week. The Roanoke City-Alleghany Health District reported 2,277 new cases in the past week. That's the largest one-week increase since the pandemic began. The district reported 1,118 new cases the week before.

115 residents of the district were hospitalized for complications related to COVID-19, as of Monday. That's up from 106 the week before.

Nine additional deaths were recorded over the past week, bringing the district's total to 736.

This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from the Virginia Education Association.

David Seidel is Radio IQ's News Director.