As the second wave of the coronavirus pandemic sweeps across the state and with Thanksgiving just around the corner, COVID-19 testing sites are struggling to keep up with the demand for tests.
In many cases, locations that accepted walk-ins are now only taking appointments. Testing locations that only offer online appointment scheduling are booked three days to a week in advance. And facilities that still accept walk-in patients for testing have long lines and waits of four or five hours for testing. Labs are also struggling to return results within a few days because so many people are getting tested for the virus across the country.
As one Planet Princeton reader noted last week, getting a COVID-19 test seems like it’s harder than getting a ticket to a Bruce Springsteen concert.
Last week and this week, we called urgent care centers in Mercer County and some were so overwhelmed that no one answered the phone after several rings. We then headed to the Brunswick Urgent Care Center on Route 27 in Franklin Park. The center offers walk-in signups for testing from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. daily. When we arrived, several people were in line and several others were sitting in the lobby. A few dozen cars were in the parking lot. People waited in line for 15 minutes to half an hour to sign in, and then were told to wait in their cars or wait at home if they lived nearby, and someone would text them in about five hours when it was their turn for a test.
CVS and Walgreens offer online reservations, but no slots were available for the next three days when we checked several times, and you could not book beyond then. We also visited doineedacovid19test.com, which lists free testing sites and is also a portal for scheduling an appointment. All of the drive-up testing locations in the region, including the Sante Pharmacy in Princeton, were booked five or six days in advance every time we checked over the past several days.
The best bet for getting tested in a timely fashion seems to be visiting one of the pop-up testing sites run by local and county agencies. Mercer County tested 302 people on Tuesday, Nov. 24. at the Cure Area in Trenton, and will be testing 300 more people next Tuesday, Dec. 1, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Officials said visitors should use Parking Lot 2 off South Broad Street to access Gate A. Testing is conducted in the arena concourse. You must bring identification to prove you are a resident of Mercer County, or that you are a first responder or healthcare worker. Bring a smartphone if you have one. Avoid eating, drinking, or chewing gum half an hour before the test, which is a saliva test.
County officials said additional pop-up testing sites will be scheduled around the county, but so far no locations or dates have been announced.
“There is a high demand for testing now and we were able to take care of citizens throughout Mercer County, and especially the city of Trenton,” County Executive Brian Hughes said. “We’ll be offering free testing at the arena again next Tuesday, and people still have the option of doing home testing.”
Another promising option for a timely test and results for Mercer County residents is to order an at-home saliva testing kit. The program is a partnership between the county and Vault Health. There is a time lag of one or two days between the initial online screening and the receipt of a link to order a test. After a day or two, you receive an email notifying you whether you qualify for a test. If you do, you receive a code and a link. Once you answer another series of questions, a testing kit will be shipped to you. The kit arrives one or two days later. You then perform the test with the guidance of a professional during a telehealth consult via video. After you ship the saliva sample back, results are available online in a few days.
The city of Trenton has also been doing pop-up testing, most recently holding a testing day in the East Ward.
The state lists free pop-up testing locations at covid19.nj.gov, but the list was only partial when we checked the page a few times. The Mercer County pop-up testing dates at the Cure Arena were not listed, for example. The state also has a testing site search page.
Gov. Phil Murphy said at his regular press briefing on Monday that there are more than 400 testing sites across the state. He also acknowledged the strain on the testing system due to the second wave of the virus and promoted pop-up testing locations in hotspot regions. He also predicted that the pandemic will get worse over the next two months before things get better.
“Right now, our focus is to deploy the resources we need to the places that need it most in an effort to bring these numbers down and to prepare to execute our vaccine distribution plan,” Murphy said.
Do you have any advice to share with readers about where to get a COVID-19 test without a long wait, or an experience to share about getting a test recently? Please post your information in our comments section below the story.