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People waiting hours in line with COVID tests in high demand

“It really just feels like lousy timing around the holidays and I’m afraid it’s only going to get worse before it gets better."

NEW ORLEANS — When Kyle Houston and Deangela Jones showed up for COVID tests and vaccine boosters at UNO in New Orleans Monday, all they got was an empty parking lot.    

“Looks like nothing,” Houston said. “Looks like they left it behind.”

Monday’s state holiday means COVID testing sites at UNO and Mahalia Jackson Theater were closed.

“Everyone was closed yesterday which was expected since it was Sunday, but I was just looking to see, and nothing,” Jones said.

After being exposed to COVID, both need a negative test to return to work, leading to frustration.

“It’s pretty much a bummer now because we’ve got to find somewhere else to go,” Houston said.

On Canal Street there’s a testing site they could go to, but they would have to take a spot in a line that wrapped around the block. One person told us they waited two-and-a-half hours to get tested. At an Urgent Care on St. Claude Avenue there was a line just as long. At the corner of Orleans and Broad there was a parking lot of folks, all waiting to get tested.

“At the moment everybody has sort of ramped up their testing and they’re testing multiple days,” said Chief of Infectious Diseases at LSU Health Dr. Julio Figueroa.

Dr. Figueroa says advice from medical leaders to test before, during, and after an event is getting harder to do. That comes as Louisiana deals with another surge in new cases. More than 12,000 cases were reported over the four-day holiday weekend.

“Flying blind is not what we want, so adequate testing is absolutely essential in order to be able to get control of this,” Dr. Figueroa said.

Even finding at home tests can prove challenging.

“We get it,” said New Orleans city health director Dr. Jennifer Avegno. “We’re having trouble getting them from where we usually getting them as well.”

Last week, the City of New Orleans gave out more than 6,000 at home tests. Dr. Avegno says as new cases increase, so does the demand for testing.

“It really just feels like lousy timing around the holidays and I’m afraid it’s only going to get worse before it gets better,” Dr. Avegno said.

With the Omicron variant dominating COVID infections, Jones and Houston are paying attention and not taking it lightly.

“It’s become apparent in recent days, become more urgent to get the booster, get tested,” Houston said.

A program from the federal government will begin mailing out 500 million at-home testing kits next month. Testing sites at UNO and Mahalia Jackson Theatre in New Orleans will also be closed Friday and Saturday.