The Oklahoman

High demand for COVID test makes accessibil­ity a challenge for residents

- Dana Branham

Some Oklahomans are struggling to find timely appointmen­ts for COVID-19 tests as the virus spreads through the state.

Residents reported that it’s been difficult to find same-day or sometimes next-day testing slots. For drive-up or walk-in testing, prepare to wait in long lines, they said, and at-home tests for sale in drugstores seem to be in scarce

supply, too.

The Oklahoma Health Department said it’s been getting reports that it’s been increasing­ly difficult to find a rapid COVID-19 test and has a “large order in place to increase our rapid testing capacity” through local health department­s, a spokesman said.

At the Oklahoma City-County Health Department, appointmen­ts for COVID-19 tests are being booked about three days out, Phil Maytubby, chief operating officer, said Tuesday. Demand has been high for tests this past week, and there are fewer supplies available than earlier in the pandemic, he said.

After hearing concern from medical providers and others in the community that it was difficult to find a test, Diagnostic­s Laboratory of Oklahoma opened a drive-thru testing site this month at its corporate headquarte­rs in northern Oklahoma City.

“When we heard that our community is really struggling to find a location, we felt like that’s within our obligation in health care to provide,” said R’Nee Mullen, the CEO of Diagnostic­s Laboratory of Oklahoma. “We felt like it was necessary to stand these resources up to serve our communitie­s.”

The site first offered drive-up testing without an appointmen­t, as well as scheduled time slots, but in response to overwhelmi­ng demand, it switched to appointmen­ts only. Both PCR and rapid antigen testing are available at no cost to patients.

Difficulty finding tests

In interviews, several Oklahoma residents described difficulty in finding a test as quickly as they had wanted. Some struggled to find an appointmen­t, some faced processing time delays, and others struggled to find an at-home test.

After trying in vain to find a COVID-19 test over the weekend after learning of a potential exposure Friday afternoon, Sarah Warmker, an OU instructor who lives in Norman, eventually was able to get a test through the Diagnostic­s Laboratory of Oklahoma on Monday morning, she said.

She spent much of Saturday and Sunday looking to find an appointmen­t sooner.

“If it’s this hard for me to get a test, how is the average person with more on their plate than I have, or with less internet literacy, going to be able to do it?” Warmker said.

For others, finding a same-day test can mean a long wait. Sarah Cotton, of Mustang, said she spent over five hours in a drive-thru line at a Crest grocery store in Yukon on Monday to get a rapid test for her daughter. On Wednesday, her family returned to get tested ahead of an upcoming trip and waited three hours in line.

For Sarah Harrison and their girlfriend, Kylie Hushbeck, both 21 yearold OU students, finding a rapid COVID-19 test was a struggle. They both got one Monday, after waiting three hours at an urgent care in Norman, they said.

Last Thursday, Mónica Santillán in Stillwater started making calls trying to find a testing appointmen­t for her daughter, who had a cough and sore throat and had been notified that she had a COVID-19 exposure in her class at school. She was able to get her daughter tested Tuesday and wants to see testing being offered through schools in the future.

“If we aren’t going to do the bare minimum of asking parents to mask their children to come to school, then find the resources to provide testing on campus,” she said. “It just makes the most sense to be able to do it closer to home without having to make an appointmen­t, without having to call multiple resources to try and get a test.”

State response

State Health Department leaders acknowledg­ed testing access issues during a media briefing last week.

“We have received some reports ... that some parts of the state are experienci­ng issues with testing accessibil­ity,” said Keith Reed, deputy health commission­er. “Our local public health experts and community partners on the ground in those areas are working diligently to identify additional testing options in order to increase accessibil­ity and availabili­ty of COVID tests.”

Part of what has changed in testing availabili­ty is that COVID-19 relief funding isn’t flowing to testing sites “to the same degree” it was earlier in the pandemic, Reed said. Testing supplies, unlike vaccine supplies, have to be purchased by providers.

Health officials urged Oklahomans to seek out testing if they have symptoms — just not at hospital emergency rooms. Reed said health officials in southwest Oklahoma had asked for help with testing resources after people were showing up to emergency rooms just to find a test.

“Unless they need medical care — we want to keep (people) out of the hospital,” Reed said.

He said the Health Department was working on a program to get rapid COVID-19 tests to schools, but the department hasn’t shared further details.

 ?? PHOTOS: DOUG HOKE/THE OKLAHOMAN ?? People wait in their cars Aug. 16 at a drive-up COVID-19 testing site in the parking lot of Crest Foods at W 15th Street and Santa Fe Avenue in Edmond.
PHOTOS: DOUG HOKE/THE OKLAHOMAN People wait in their cars Aug. 16 at a drive-up COVID-19 testing site in the parking lot of Crest Foods at W 15th Street and Santa Fe Avenue in Edmond.
 ??  ?? High demand for COVID-19 tests means that people have to wait in long lines before they will be tested.
High demand for COVID-19 tests means that people have to wait in long lines before they will be tested.

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