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Brewerytown resident Cameron Williams had two potential exposures to COVID last month. Before he could return to work, he needed to test-but at the same time, he failed to find a site that offered immediately available testing in Philadelphia.
When he searched city test portal, Williams said, appointments are at least four days away.
Later, she saw trials by a friend who works in a nursing home and there was an extra. He was negative, and returned to his job as an internal physician in Norristown.
“I can’t imagine people without the same access I’m trying to do this,” the 33-year-old doctor said. “It’s either, wait four days and be responsible, or just coincidentally and go to work. And that doesn’t help end this pandemic.”
People all over Philadelphia said they found the COVID test relatively difficult to access today. Pharmacies and urgent care centers that offer trials are booked in advance. Many healthcare networks require you to be an existing patient to be tested.
A patchwork of walk-up clinics offers trials throughout the city. But a year and a half into the pandemic, service at each site was infrequent, with some operating only on a few days or only for a few hours at a time. Some require a patient to have symptoms. Others require a car for drive-thru testing.
Even rapid tests, which are less accurate than lab-operated PCR tests but are useful for confirming a negative, are sold in many local stores, and are not always available online. .
The rise of the delta variant has stimulated a surge in test demand in Philadelphia, city Department of Public Health spokesman James Garrow confirmed. Recorded by the department nearly 60,000 trials last week – up from a low low of 17,000 in mid -July. “We are not at the top [testing] level ever ever we have been, but are close to it, ”Garrow said.
However, there are no plans to add more testing capability, he said, because “only 3% of tests return positive, which is accepted worldwide as indicative of catching the majority of the disease in a population.”
It’s not clear if a low positivity rate means the supply is actually enough to serve everyone who wants a test. Although people who have been vaccinated may be inclined to check in after higher -risk activities – and anyone with known exposure may need to be tested to return to work, whether they feel positive or not.
East Kensington resident Phillip Price said he used to see one of Vybe’s mobile test units in his neighborhood at least once a week, and looked forward to it for regular screening. He hadn’t seen it in over a month, so after attending a big indoor concert last week, the 33-year-old tried to book at local pharmacies or urgent care centers.
He couldn’t find any appointments available when he needed them, so he gave up. “It’s a laborious task,” Price said. “Every test I’ve taken so far has been negative, but I think it’s just important to be vigilant and careful.”
At Philadelphia FIGHT, a nonprofit that has been providing testing since the pandemic hit, staff are scrambling to meet demand.
Executive director Jane Shull said as test seekers dropped from 500 people / week last winter to 50 / week this spring, she planned to stop all service offerings. Now his sites are backed up screening about 300 patients per week.
“We’re doing what we have the resources to do, but it’s not enough given the demand,” Shull said.
Philadelphia’s FIGHT clinics in Germantown, Kensington, Norris Square, and Mifflin Square Park are open a quarter as often as ever, with each site offering testing one day a week for two hours.
“It’s stressful,” Shull said. “Part of the reason we went on the schedule we went on was difficult with our staff.”
Northern Liberties resident Stephanie King, 45, did not realize her daughter had COVID symptoms until arriving home one Friday night a few weeks ago. She would have waited for Monday to get a test at school, but as someone at high risk of complications, she wanted her daughter to be tested as soon as possible.
King said he expects to take his daughter to a church on the block to test patients in a tent in the parking lot. But that operation was closed, so he spent Saturday online, scouring the internet for an appointment the same day.
She finally saw a cancellation at a drive-thru pharmacy in North Philly, and her daughter tested negative.
“I don’t know how it would work if I didn’t have a car,” King said. “At this point, there should be easy access to testing throughout the city. It should be easier if we can see the end of this tunnel.”
There aren’t any concrete plans to open new test sites or build a more consistent operation in Philadelphia, per Garrow, a health department spokesman said.
“That being said, we’re always looking for new opportunities to expand our services,” Garrow added, “so there may be expansions or new programs in the future.”