ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — As omicron and holiday plans collide, many people are rushing out the door to find COVID-19 tests.
Health experts say testing before gathering with loved ones this weekend is a good idea, but it could take you a little extra time and patience to find a store with test kits in stock.
One relatively new testing location at 1757 Mt. Hope Avenue is offering free rapid and PCR tests, without making it too difficult for people to sign up.
“It said no appointment needed, which is what I need because I don’t have time to make appointments. No insurance needed, I also don’t have that. And it just looked like it would be a quick in and out,” said Katelyn, a Rochester resident, who got tested on Wednesday.
The site’s rapid tests provide results within minutes, but the PCR tests can take anywhere from 72-96 hours due to increased demand. Despite the wait time, dozens of people showed up to get tested on Wednesday morning.
Katelyn said a wedding on Christmas Eve and her babysitter testing positive led her to get tested.
“I talked to the bride this morning and her request was we make sure that everybody’s safe because we don’t want to get anybody else in her family sick and everyone will be wearing masks for the event, inside the church at least,” Katelyn said. “The bride and groom will not have their mask on, so I don’t want them to get sick either…can’t ruin their honeymoon.”
Sevonna Hunt, a local healthcare worker, also showed up to get tested on Wednesday.
“I have a nine month year old and with the holidays coming, I just wanted to be sure and get us checked out,” she said. Hunt said she was also recently exposed and wanted to get tested before potentially seeing her grandparents over the holidays.
“I’ve always been cautious and I have a booster so it’s very important, especially with the elderly people and the babies because some of them not vaccinated and my daughter, she can’t be vaccinated. So it’s definitely important to be negative before even seeing any family I felt like,” Hunt said.
Many people getting tested said they had tried to find an at-home rapid test first, but either didn’t want to spend the money, or couldn’t find one due to high demand.
“They’re all out,” Hunt said. “I called all over. Everyone said that they ran out the day before yesterday, so I was a day late, so it wasn’t possible.”
Jennifer Gutowski, Associate Director for Infection Prevention at Rochester Regional Health, said testing before gathering is a good idea. But it’s important to know which test you’re taking.
“This year, you can go to CVS, Walgreens, I know they’re limiting some of the amount of testing you can buy, but you should be able to at least get an at-home antigen test. We know these tests are not as sensitive as PCR and it’s a test that should tell you if you have COVID at that time, but no test is 100% sensitive, that is going to be your less sensitive test,” Gutowski said.
If you plan on gathering with people outside your household this Christmas, Gutowski said she recommends being vaccinated, masking, social distancing, and taking a test ahead of time.
“This is a year where even if we are vaccinated, if we’re getting together indoors, it still poses a risk. We know that omicron is taking over, it’s very transmissible just like delta has been as well, and so indoor settings are places where if we’re not masked, we will see a spread even among vaccinated individuals,” Gutowski said. “We encourage the booster that is helping to prevent any vaccine breakthrough, but we’re at risk when we’re indoors. If we’re unvaccinated, it’s a very high risk.”
If you have young ones under the age of 5 who can’t be vaccinated, Gutowski recommends doing all you can to keep them safe.
“If our children have other conditions, I would be more cautious. But if we have a generally healthy child under five, we can do these things: asking loved ones to be tested, asking them to be vaccinated, vaccinating ourselves… that increase safety and decreases the chance that our child would be infected,” she said.
Gutowski adds transmission is even more likely when people are eating. She recommends people sit with their immediate families in separate rooms from one another (if possible). She also adds opening windows can help, along with replacing masks immediately after eating.
If you do gather for the holidays and someone ends up testing positive, Gutowski recommends getting tested five days after exposure with a PCR test or two at-home antigen tests. She also recommends masking indoors for 14 days and monitoring your temperature.
If you are looking to get tested before the holidays, News 8 has a compiled list of free testing sites here.