On a cold December morning, two days before Christmas, Vermonters lined up across the state to collect COVID-19 tests to take away before holiday meetings – only to be told, in many cases, that the tests were all gone.
State officials said on Tuesday that tens of thousands of test kits would be available later in the week at 16 distribution sites across the state. But on Thursday morning, the Department of Health announced that most sites were running out of antigen testing for the day. (Those who booked LAMP tests through the department’s website were still able to pick them up at pre-scheduled times later Thursday, a department spokesperson said.)
Throughout the morning, lines of cars and pedestrians meandered around distribution sites. Readers told VtDigger that sites in Hartford, St. Albans and Colchester, among others, ran out of test kits by 9 a.m.
Sharon Plumb, a resident of eastern Montpellier, arrived at a distribution site in Berlin just after it opened at 9 a.m. on Thursday. tag all by itself. She was planning to take tests for her entire family, but was surprised to learn that she could only get one test.
Plumb stood in line a second time on the advice of a member of the cast team and was able to take another test. Her husband and daughter, meanwhile, went to the site themselves to collect theirs.
“They’ve had the last two tests,” she said.
After the morning rush, the health ministry said it would make more antigen test kits available on Friday – two per car or walk-in, on a first-come, first-served basis. Some distribution sites had already planned to distribute additional kits after Christmas.
The health ministry is expected to distribute 30,000 tests on Thursday – including around 25,000 antigen test kits and around 5,000 LAMP tests, spokesman Ben Truman said. The department said it would increase its supply of antigen testing kits in the coming days to a total of 96,000.
Antigen test kits provide results within 15 minutes, and although they are not as accurate as PCR tests, they are still considered very accurate. LAMP tests – which work similarly to PCR tests but provide faster results – are available by appointment only.
Vermont also distributed 6,500 antigen testing kits to partner organizations in the community for distribution to people of color and those experiencing homelessness, economic hardship or food insecurity, the secretary said on Tuesday. at Mike Smith Social Services.
Although the health ministry did not say whether those organizations were running low on test kits on Thursday, at least one partner organization reported high demand. Patricia Johnson, a NAACP member and nurse at Southwestern Vermont Medical Center, said the state gave her 200 test kits. She estimated that she received about double that number of requests.
Some pharmacies offer test kits, she said, but “people say they can’t afford them or there are no tests available.”
The community Johnson works with may find it difficult to get to the test sites due to a lack of transportation or because they work when the test sites are open, she said.
The test race started early at the DoubleTree Hotel in South Burlington. At 7 a.m., two and a half hours before the site officially opened, the parking lot was filled with cars, according to Jeff Patterson, who managed the test distribution site.
Patterson and his team opened the site early and quickly distributed all of their 1,200 or so rapid antigen tests, leaving many people out in the cold – literally.
“Probably for an hour after there was a constant flow of traffic,” Patterson said.
To get the message across before test researchers venture into the building, Patterson has placed two makeshift signs in the parking lot. To shape the panels, he used the tools at his disposal: a printer, spare cardboard and tape.
“WE ARE ALL OUT OF TAKE-AWAY COVID TEST KITS,” each sign announced.
Barbara Mentzer, a 78-year-old resident of Colchester, noticed the signs just before 11 a.m. and turned to walk back to her car. It was his second attempt to get tested that morning. She and her husband had tried the site in the South Burlington neighborhood around 9:30 a.m.
Mentzer said she planned to procure tests in case she or her husband developed symptoms of COVID-19. If they did, the two could use a rapid antigen test to detect the disease more quickly, then seek treatment for it.
Mentzer said she didn’t mind her inability to get a test kit.
“I’m not terribly, terribly worried,” she told VtDigger.
Marie Friedman, mother of three from Essex Junction, was also bowled over by Patterson’s sign. She said her family’s plans to spend Christmas with her grandparents could change if they can’t find rapid tests.
“I think I would talk to my family and see what they think about it,” she said, adding that her whole family had received a booster dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.
Like Mentzer, Friedman’s stop at the DoubleTree was not his family’s first visit to a distribution site Thursday morning. Her husband tried the Colchester location around 8:30 am to no avail.
Other sites in Chittenden County experienced similar rainfall to obtain rapid antigen testing. By 6:30 a.m., a line of 50 to 70 people – some of them waiting patiently on lawn chairs – had formed at the Pine Street site in Burlington, said Norm Nault, who managed the site.
The site began distributing tests just before its scheduled 8:00 am opening and sold out its initial batch of 500 around around 8:45 am, Nault said. While hundreds of people still lined up, Nault checked with state officials to see if he could get around 600 more tests from a nearby distribution site. The request was granted, and the Pine Street site resumed distribution at around 9.45am.
At around 10:30 a.m., when the resupply of tests dried up, there was no one on the line.
“We were able to pass all of those tests,” Nault said.
But not everyone received the volume of testing they hoped for. While some people received more kits because they had larger families or other circumstances that they explained to site staff, single people trying to get more than one test were turned down.
Still, Nault said, most of those people didn’t give his staff a hard time.
“It was one of those situations that kind of explains itself, luckily,” he told VtDigger.
At the O’Brien community center in Winooski, more than 500 rapid antigen test kits were distributed, but it still left hundreds of people who showed up on site without one, said Wendy Elles, a staff member. of the site.
“It was a madhouse when we got here,” Elles said. “But the people were happy.”
Jackson Lipfert, who oversees the Berlin site, said his team had around 650 antigen tests to hand out. The kits were gone in 30 minutes, he said. By mid-morning, Lipfert and his colleague only had the LAMP kits – priced at $ 75 a pop – that Vermonters could reserve in advance.
Tonya Guyette, a healthcare worker who lives in Waterbury, traveled to Berlin to a heated distribution hut on Thursday to collect her LAMP kit. Guyette said she was recently exposed to COVID-19 through a family member. With labs scheduled to be closed over the bank holiday weekend, she said she needed a LAMP test to return to work on Monday rather than Tuesday.
Other Vermonters tried unsuccessfully to book LAMP tests earlier in the week.
Monica Martinet, 62, a thrift store owner in Stowe, said she started looking for a quick test on Wednesday after a niece tested positive. When she couldn’t find a test at her local pharmacy, she tried to book one through the state. But the Lamoille County site was already booked, Martinet said.
“I am as proactive as possible,” she said. “So to hear that there are no tests available when I just want to know. I don’t want to make anyone sick in my community.
Truman, the spokesperson for the Department of Health, said Thursday the state is doing what it can to meet the demand for testing.
“We recognize the frustration that (some) people may feel and hope that everyone – tested or not – will follow all of the recommended steps to help prevent the spread of the virus,” he said.
The department’s press release says Gov. Phil Scott’s administration continues to work on procuring more antigen testing, “but like other states, we are limited by the realities of supply at the level. federal”.
Authorities have urged Vermonters to take advantage of free state-run testing sites to prepare for holiday gatherings, which are expected to lead to an increase in COVID-19.
“The holiday season is likely to spike in COVID cases. It’s just the reality, ”Social Services secretary Smith said on Tuesday. “But by taking common sense measures, as the governor said – vaccinate, test, mask (and) ask – we can help control the scale of the spike in cases.”
The Department of Health maintains a list of antigen test kits available on its website. Some insurers are required to cover the cost of antigen test kits at pharmacies, but it depends on the type of plan.