Coronavirus

'Tis The Season to Wait in Line for COVID-19 Tests

The walk-up COVID-19 testing line at the Joseph Caleb Center in Brownsville on December 20
The walk-up COVID-19 testing line at the Joseph Caleb Center in Brownsville on December 20 Photo by Joshua Ceballos
'Twas the week before Christmas and all through the county, COVID-19 infections were rising.

Though long lines are to be expected this time of year, they're typically for last-minute holiday shopping at the mall — not for COVID-19 swabs at testing centers across Miami-Dade County.

But that's the fate that awaits Miami residents who need to know if they'll be spreading more than holiday cheer on Nochebuena. The state reported 18,404 new cases on Saturday and Sunday, December 18-19, up from the 2,000 daily average in October and November. Coupled with the emergence of the Omicron variant and increased holiday travel, COVID-19 testing lines have never been longer or in higher demand.

"I get tested here every week for work, and this is the longest it's ever been," says Jesus Figueroa, 52, as he waits behind 20 people on Monday outside the MedRite Urgent Care on Miami's Upper Eastside. "Normally, there's only about five people in line. I've been here for over 30 minutes."
click to enlarge The walk-up COVID-19 testing line at MedRite Urgent Care testing site on Miami's Upper Eastside on Monday, December 20 - PHOTO BY JOSHUA CEBALLOS
The walk-up COVID-19 testing line at MedRite Urgent Care testing site on Miami's Upper Eastside on Monday, December 20
Photo by Joshua Ceballos
At the walk-up testing site at the Joseph Caleb Center in Brownsville the same day, rapid antigen and PCR tests usually take no more than ten minutes. But on Monday morning, the line stretched outside the parking garage as abuelas in wheelchairs and small children with tablets waited nearly an hour for their swabs. Whereas the site usually offers both PCR and rapid antigen tests, personnel asked people to choose only one test owing to the increased demand.

Meanwhile, at the drive-up testing site at Amelia Earhart Park in Hialeah, cars idled a full block from the entrance as drivers waited to get tested. Every few minutes, they'd inch toward the medical tents, though some frustrated motorists resorted to honking. At least one man in a white SUV honked and peeled out of the line before reaching the admitting personnel dressed in scrubs and clutching clipboards.
click to enlarge Cars idled for a full block outside the entrance of the drive-thru COVID-19 testing site at Amelia Earhart Park in Hialeah on December 20. - PHOTO BY JOSHUA CEBALLOS
Cars idled for a full block outside the entrance of the drive-thru COVID-19 testing site at Amelia Earhart Park in Hialeah on December 20.
Photo by Joshua Ceballos
Pharmacies carrying at-home tests have been hit by the uptick in cases as well, with stores across the county reporting that they've sold out of take-home test kits.

The Publix stores in North Beach and Surfside were sold out of take-home rapid tests on Monday. Pharmacy employees said they wouldn't be getting a new shipment for at least another two days.

Reached by New Times via email, a Walgreens spokesperson said the company is experiencing a shortage and working to increase its supply.

"Following Thanksgiving and leading into the upcoming holiday week, we’ve seen an unprecedented increase in demand for rapid OTC [over the counter] COVID-19 tests across the country and are working with our suppliers to ensure customers have access to self-test kits through the holidays. Some stores may experience a temporary shortage in rapid OTC testing solutions. For consumers looking for specific items, Walgreens.com updates with the latest available store inventory information frequently throughout the day," the spokesperson said.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Omicron variant will likely spread more easily than the original SARS-CoV-2 virus, and may lead to breakthrough infections. Masks, vaccines, and booster doses are the best defense against serious illness, hospitalizations, and death.
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Joshua Ceballos is staff writer for Miami New Times. He is a Florida International University alum and a born-and-bred Miami boy.
Contact: Joshua Ceballos