Sacramento COVID test lines crawling amid system glitch, extreme demand from omicron

As huge lines snake around corners at churches and community centers, creating long wait times, COVID-19 test sites in Sacramento County and elsewhere are buckling as the surging omicron variant creates overwhelming levels of demand. County spokeswoman Samantha Mott said a state-contracted test registration system called Primary, used by the testing clinic at Liberty Towers Church and “several” other local sites, appeared to be down early Monday morning. Mott said Primary as of around 9:30 a.m. was “back up and running” but processing “slower than usual” at the Liberty Towers site in Sacramento County’s Foothill Farms neighborhood, leading to continued delays.

The technical issue worsened already brutal wait times, as a line had wrapped around Liberty Towers Church well before the doors opened at 8 a.m.

The line barely budged for the first 45 minutes, prompting several to abandon their testing plans. By 9 a.m., it stretched through the parking lot and to the street, hundreds of people shivering in 40-degree weather with their smartphones, trying to get tested for COVID-19. Leigh Davis, 21, lined up about 7:45 a.m. after possibly being exposed to someone with the coronavirus. She needs a test before her overnight shift as a package handler in a warehouse. “We thought we were getting here early,” she said, only to learn some had lined up by 7. “We definitely misjudged our timing.” The testing center is one of two county-partnered clinics operating on Monday. While people can pre-register, the center takes walk-ups, too.

The wait at the county’s other testing site, at La Familia Counseling Center in south Sacramento, was also long — with some people waiting more than 2 hours. The center, which had planned to close for lunch, stayed open to accommodate the line. As of this weekend, most testing appointments in the capital region were backed up by a week or more, and at-home tests are all but impossible to find. People who tried to order tests before Christmas in hopes of avoiding the mad-dash this week learned over the holiday that their orders had been delayed due to short supplies. Davis said she didn’t want to blame anyone, but also felt the frustration about the dearth of testing options — especially during the surge in the omicron variant. “I feel like this is just a scenario everyone was thrown into,” she said. “At the same time, two years in, it just feels like we should have something more organized set up.” Many are seeking testing following potential exposures during Christmas or New Year’s holiday celebrations. Monday marked the first weekday of 2022, as well as the return for tens of thousands of local K-12 students, teachers and staff from winter break.

“Yes, the lines at Liberty Tower are long. Folks can wait, or hopefully it will be faster this afternoon and pick back up,” Mott said. The church offers free COVID-19 testing on Mondays from 8 a.m. to 11 a.m. and from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. Sacramento COVID cases soar to all-time high The Sacramento County health office on Monday reported a new all-time record for daily case rate at 72 per 100,000 residents, nearly triple the rate from one week earlier after cases broke the single-day record four times last week. The latest figure broke the previous record of 64 per 100,000 set in December 2020.

California as a whole has had its test positivity skyrocket from 3% on Dec. 17 to 15.9% on Friday, according to the California Department of Public Health, with data not yet updated to include the holiday weekend. The number of COVID-positive patients in Sacramento County hospital beds has soared to 267 as of Monday’s update from CDPH, a 69% increase since Christmas and now more than halfway to last winter’s record of 518. The intensive care unit total has jumped 42% since the holiday, from 43 to 61.

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