Omahans hopping in line for a COVID-19 test in the next few days should bring a heaping dose of patience.
Wait times at some testing sites have stretched longer than two hours this week. Lines at the Oak View Mall testing site have snaked through the parking lot.
“We certainly have had a huge increase in volume last week and this week as well,” said June Steely, senior medical director for Nomi Health.
Nomi Health operates three testing sites in Omaha — at Oak View Mall and at Metropolitan Community College’s Fort Omaha and South Omaha campuses. The organization, based in Utah, previously operated the TestNebraska program.
To help with wait times, Steely said Nomi has doubled staff at the sites.
Steely said Thursday that wait times at Oak View are down, on average, to 25 to 30 minutes. Wait times at the North Omaha site are around 20 to 25 minutes and 20 to 30 minutes at the South Omaha site.
One Omaha woman said she spent nearly two hours in line at the testing site at Oak View Mall on Wednesday night. A line of cars quickly grew behind her as she waited.
She opted to get tested for COVID after being exposed to a family member who later tested positive for the disease. She expects to wait a few days for results.
Wait times at the Fort Omaha campus in North Omaha have ranged from 10 minutes to a little over an hour, test-takers report.
At the college’s South Omaha campus, wait times were around an hour and 45 minutes on Wednesday. One person saw several drivers give up and exit the line.
One World-Herald reporter waited more than three hours for a test at a Kohll’s Rx location on Wednesday afternoon. Such a long wait is an anomaly, pharmacist David Kohll said, possibly caused by a staffing shortage at the site.
The wait time for a test at one of the five Kohll’s Rx locations can be as short as 20 minutes, particularly at the pharmacy’s Millard location, Kohll said.
Since the beginning of last week, Steely said, an average of about 775 tests were being done per day at Nomi Health’s Oak View site, up from a previous average of 200 to 300 a day. The North Omaha location has been doing about 185 tests a day and the South Omaha site is at about 220 tests a day.
An average of 900 tests are being done a day across all the Kohll’s Rx locations, Kohll said.
The number of tests performed before the holiday surge varied, Kohll said — anywhere from 200 to 500 tests a day.
Steely said the earlier you go for a test, the shorter the wait time. Registering ahead of time also makes things go more smoothly. Between 8 a.m. and 10 a.m., she said, the wait is about five minutes. But by 4 p.m., the wait could stretch to 40 minutes.
“We expected a surge,” Steely said, “but we didn’t realize it was going to be this big of a surge.”
Nomi sites offer PCR tests and rapid tests. Rapid tests have been the more popular option, Steely said, yielding results in about 20 minutes. Results from PCR tests are taking about 45 hours, she said.
Kohll’s also offers PCR and rapid tests.
The Douglas County Health Department reported 794 positive COVID-19 tests from Wednesday. It brings the total number of positive cases reported since March 2020 to 103,128.
Kohll said his company expected a rush for COVID testing around the holidays. This year’s surge was similar to what Kohll’s Rx saw last holiday season. To prepare, Kohll said, he hired extra staff.
Appointments are strongly encouraged.
It’s hard to predict when this testing surge will end, both Steely and Kohll said. Steely said she’s hopeful it will slow by late January.
Many of the people seeking tests have been at gatherings, are planning to attending a gathering, have experienced exposure or symptoms or are planning to travel, Steely said.
Staff on site are busy and have felt the brunt of the testing rush.
“We certainly feel for them and really appreciate them working the holidays and in cold conditions,” Steely said. “They’re troupers.”
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