Demand for COVID-19 Testing Surges as Holidays Near

The omicron variant and an increase in Chicago COVID-19 cases has folks scrambling to find testing ahead of the holidays.

Most of the sites WTTW News visited Tuesday and Wednesday were packed with people trying to get a COVID-19 test, including people searching local pharmacies for at-home rapid kits.

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CVS and Walgreens are now limiting the number of at-home COVID-19 tests customers can purchase due to the surge in demand for those tests. At Walgreens people are only allowed to purchase four boxes per person while at CVS there’s a limit of six test kits per customer. The problem now is finding them.

“They didn’t have them. CVS had a sign saying they don’t have them and I assume same thing here,” said Rogers Park resident Lindsay Reiff. “I also tried to get a PCR test and that wasn’t available until (Dec.) 27th. It’s hard to know what’s going on but it’s definitely out there, and I’m probably going to start staying home more often.”

Both CVS and Walgreens said they are aware that many stores locally and across the country are temporarily out of stock and are working with manufactures to get more.

They are encouraging people to get tested at their labs as they work on minimizing turnaround times for results. With the omicron variant causing concern, testing facilities across the city are experiencing a spike in people trying to get tested in the hopes they can travel or gather safely with their families for the holidays.

“We are supposed to go to my aunt’s house in Schaumburg and meet up with the family but since she’s a nurse she doesn’t know right now because of COVID,” said Albany Park resident Eric Hernandez. “So we are like this right now.”

A mother and daughter were looking forward to spending Christmas with extended family, but they say those plans were canceled when relatives tested positive for COVID-19.

“We were all going to test before we met. We were going to Michigan and we had an Airbnb that we were all going to meet at for a couple nights,” said Rogers Park resident Julia Siple. “We knew once I had friends in my circle that were testing positive, even though we are all vaccinated and being very careful, we sort of knew this might happen.”

Health officials have announced a concerning rise in COVID-19 cases in the city and state this week alone. The vice president and chief nursing officer at Swedish Hospital, part of the Northshore system, says most of the patients they’re admitting have mild symptoms.

“We are seeing more and more people come in to get tested, and we are looking at individuals to get vaccinated and get the booster,” said Kathy Donofrio, chief nursing officer at Swedish Hospital. “We are seeing at the hospital the number of hospitalization increase also. The vast majority are not vaccinated, and we are really encouraging everyone to get vaccinated and get the booster.”

On Peterson and Claremont a line of cars filled up a testing site offering rapid tests, a PCR tests and the COVID-19 vaccine.

Hernandez decided to roll up his sleeve to get the vaccine after seeing more family members get COVID-19.

“I’m young. I’m a veteran, for me I thought it like I’m a superhero. My family has got it before, and I never got it, but know it’s getting more serious and I see my grandparent’s health deteriorating with age,” he said.

At Northwestern Memorial Hospital the drive-thru line for testing wrapped around the building. Other walk-in and appointment-only clinics are experiencing wait times of an hour or more for people to get tested. One woman took to Twitter to express her frustration about waiting in line for three hours. 

“It’s a little tricky because many people have very mild symptoms, and it’s hard to figure out: Do I have a cold? Do I have the flu? So it’s good that they are getting tested, so they know for sure and not bringing that home into their families and others in the community,” said Donofrio.

The White House is promising to buy and distribute 500 million rapid at-home tests beginning in January.

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