Pre-Christmas testing rush results in long lines, longer turnaround times

BOSTON — Health care centers and testing sites across Massachusetts are bracing for a major spike in COVID-19 testing ahead of Christmas. Many appointment-only testing sites are largely booked for this week and a number of locations are closing for several days for the Christmas holiday.

Health experts believe the number of people looking to get tested is a clear indication that many are planning to travel or see friends and family this week. Those who are planning on getting tested are advised to prepare for long turnaround times.

“As of a couple days ago, some of the turnaround times for the lab were three to four days,” said Dr. Brian Cruz, the regional medical director with PhysicianOne Urgent Care. “I fully expect that’s going to increase as the volume of testing continues to go up.”

Dr. Cruz warns that some may not receive their result in time for Christmas. He said it depends on which health care facility is conducting the test and the lab that is used.

“They might not, and that’s some of the disclosure that we talk about when the patient books the appointment,” Dr. Cruz explained.

A list of state-run testing sites will be closing for more than two days for Christmas, and many labs will be shut down for several days as well. Some facilities are extending hours on Monday and Tuesday and the days after Christmas to try to get in as many people as possible (you can check for the latest holiday updates here.)

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“We are expecting over 100 people per hour,” said Sandra Silva, vice president of operations and community support services with Greater Lawrence Family Health Center. “ Back on Friday, we saw 591 people.”

The Greater Lawrence Family Health Center, which offers free walk-up testing, has been seeing people from all over the state.

“We’ve seen people that come from as far away as Worcester and Lancaster,” Silva explained. “It definitely signifies that people are looking to gather together. I would encourage everyone to definitely wait for that call or email with your negative result before you do that.”

Hospitals across Massachusetts are already overwhelmed amid the largest outbreak of COVID-19 in the U.S. since March. The seven-day rolling average of newly reported infections in the U.S. has risen from about 176,000 a day just before Thanksgiving to more than 215,000 a day.

“We were hoping to maybe not see such a scramble for testing before Christmas,” said Dr. Shira Doron, an infectious disease physician and epidemiologist with Tufts Medical Center.

Dr. Doron told Boston 25 News that a negative test result sometimes gives people a false sense of security and causes some to let their guard down.

“A test is a moment in time. You can be negative on Monday morning and positive on Monday afternoon,” she said. “If you’re planning on being with people from outside your household, it’s still important to wear a mask and to stay six feet away.”

The number of people who crossed through U.S. airports over the weekend is also causing concern among health experts.

More than one million people have passed through U.S. airport security checkpoints in each of the past two days. It marks the first time U.S. airports have screened more than one million passengers since November 29.

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