US COVID testing sites see miles-long lines, delays ahead of holidays

U.S. surpasses 12 million COVID-19 cases as Thanksgiving nears

Infectious disease expert Dr. Amesh Adalja on how to celebrate the holiday safely

Coronavirus testing sites nationwide are strained and overflowing as people rush to get results before the Thanksgiving holiday.

With cases spiking, multiple states have advised families to reduce Thanksgiving celebrations; states have advised against travel, but quarantining for two weeks if you do hit the road.

In an effort to avoid amending holiday plans, Americans have flocked to COVID-19 testing sites, forming long lines in cars and in person.

In this Nov. 18 photo, vehicles line up to be tested at the COVID-19 drive-thru testing center at Miami Beach Convention Center in Miami Beach, Fla. With coronavirus cases surging and families hoping to gather safely for Thanksgiving, long lines to get tested have reappeared across the U.S. (David Santiago/Miami Herald via AP, File)

Images show a system still struggling to handle the demands of the pandemic.

Laboratories warned that continuing shortages of key supplies are likely to create more bottlenecks and delays.

In this Nov. 17 photo, North Dakota National Guard soldiers Spc. Samantha Crabbe, left, and Master Sgt. Melanie Vincent administer COVID-19 tests inside the Bismarck Events Center in Bismarck, N.D. With coronavirus cases surging and families hoping to gather safely for Thanksgiving, long lines to get tested have reappeared across the U.S. (Tom Stromme/The Bismarck Tribune via AP, File)

“As those cases increase, demand increases and turnaround times may increase,” said Scott Becker, CEO of the Association of Public Health Laboratories. “So it’s like a dog chasing its tail.”

Massachusetts has 300 testing sites, and each has seen massive, snaking lines while residents wait to get tested, WHDH reported.

Gov. Charlie Baker said the state is looking to expand testing capacity, but that will not accommodate this sudden rush.


“Busy is an understatement. We do 650 to 700 cars every four hours,” said Brenda Giroux, a security officer at the Somerville Carewell Urgent Care testing site.

Baker said he hopes new testing products will make it possible to expand testing significantly, but those products haven't made it to the market yet.

Lines in New York City spanned multiple city blocks, with residents waiting three or more hours before entering health clinics.

“Friends in Brooklyn: I waited 3.5 hours for a COVID-19 rapid test today after being unable to get an appointment last week,” Justice Namaste of Jezebel and Bustle tweeted.

Justice also noted some clinics even said they were not honoring appointments in most cases.  

 In this Nov 18 photo, motorists wait in long lines to take a coronavirus test in a parking lot at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles. With coronavirus cases surging and families hoping to gather safely for Thanksgiving, long lines to get tested have reappeared across the U.S. (AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu, File)

Lines at Dodgers stadium in Los Angeles wrapped multiple times around the parking lot while people waited for tests. Health officials sent mixed messages as to whether or not residents should get tested before the holiday. 

San Francisco’s Department of Emergency Management warned that people should not use a test to determine if they can travel. But Contra Costa County, across the bay, suggested anyone insistent on gathering with friends or relatives should get tested.

Adm. Brett Giroir, the U.S. official overseeing testing, downplayed reports of lines and delays earlier this week. In some cases, he said, lines are caused by a lack of scheduling by testing locations, which should stagger appointments.

Washington state saw a similar rush to testing sites after the governor seemed to send mixed messages, KOMO News reported.

“Look: Don’t get a test because you want to go to Thanksgiving dinner,” Gov. Jay Inslee said. “Just put off that dinner until next year and do it virtually. Because it has resulted in strains on the testing situations. So, we would encourage people to find a way to enjoy Thanksgiving and not use up what is still a limited capacity on testing.”


Even if residents do test negative for the coronavirus, health experts are urging maintaining fundamental health care protocols. 

“You can’t test yourself out of a pandemic,” said Godbey, president of the College of American Pathologists.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

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