Public health officials have repeatedly said more COVID-19 testing is essential to preventing the virus from spreading, but challenges to accomplishing this persist.

Media reports say a national shortage of swabs for collecting nasal samples and chemicals for testing them led to bottlenecks in COVID-19 testing.

Dr. Mandy Cohen, director of the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), said about a week ago that the testing turnaround time averaged six to seven days statewide. It averaged two to three days in June statewide.

Wilkes Health Department Director Rachel Willard said that a few weeks ago, it took five to seven days for the Wilkes Health Department to receive test results. Now, it’s three to five days.

DHHS issued a standing order in early July saying a doctor’s referral is no longer needed to get a COVID-19 test, but whether this is the case depends on protocol where testing is sought.

The Wilkes Health Department offers free drive-through COVID-19 testing to anyone, meaning no criteria must be met.

If you call the Wilkes Health Department at 336-651-7450 about being tested, you’ll be asked some demographic and other questions and then instructed to remain in your vehicle in the health department’s rear parking lot upon arrival.

A nurse, fully suited in protective clothing, will come out and collect nasal samples with swabs while you remain seated in the vehicle.

Although testing is available to anyone who wants it, a July 6 DHHS memo said anyone with symptoms indicating the possibility of COVID-19 should get tested.

It also said people who had close contact with known positive cases, regardless of symptoms, should be tested.

You can go to “Check My Symptoms” at ncdhhs.gov/symptoms for help determining if you or someone else may have COVID-19, as well as get information about nearby testing sites. You can also go to ncdhhs.gov/TestingPlace to find the nearest testing place.

The DHHS memo said the following should be tested, regardless of symptoms, if they think they even possibly were exposed to COVID-19:

• people who live in or have regular contact with high-risk settings, such as long-term care facilities, homeless shelters and correctional facilities;

• historically marginalized populations possibly at higher risk for exposure;

• frontline and essential workers such as people working in grocery stores, gas stations, child care facilities, construction sites, meat processing plants in settings where social distancing is hard to maintain;

• health care workers and law enforcement, fire department, military or other first responder;

• people at high risk of severe illness, including people over 65 or of any age with underlying health conditions;

• people who attended protests, rallies or other mass gatherings.

Testing through the state lab is available for certain prioritized populations with symptoms compatible with COVID-19. These include hospitalized patients; healthcare workers or first responders; people who live in or have regular contact with high-risk setting; people at higher risk of severe illness; and uninsured patients.

Many insurance plans have waived the co-pay for COVID-19 testing, and you may qualify for free testing at many commercial testing sites. Many public health departments, like Wilkes, don’t charge.

The important thing is to get tested if you have symptoms indicating the possibility of COVID-19, if you were near someone who tested positive or you fit another stated reason for testing.

Many recent COVID-19 cases locally resulted from Wilkes people visiting popular vacation destinations that are COVID-19 hotspots. Consider getting testing if you spent time in one of these especially if you didn’t engage in social distancing and other recommended practices.

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