| Credit: Andy Brack

The return to business as usual after the Christmas holiday brought throngs of people into pharmacies and testing sites this week, with some people telling media they waited over three hours for a COVID test.

Multiple factors are contributing to the lines that have reportedly wrapped around parking lots at testing sites ran by the state Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) including Charleston residents returning from holiday trips, people preparing for New Year’s trips and the selling out of at-home testing kits.

Chad Straughan, a pharmacist at Tidewater Pharmacy in Mount Pleasant, said the pharmacy is having trouble keeping the kits stocked.

“We had 250 delivered [Wednesday] that were gone within the day,” he said. “And we had 500 delivered [Thursday] and were down to 150 by 5 p.m. It’s crazy how fast they’re flying off the shelves.”

Straughan said a big factor in the demand for tests is likely the milder symptoms caused by the omicron variant, which more closely resemble common cold symptoms. Without a test, he said, it may be much more difficult for people to determine whether that sniffle is a cold, or COVID.

“Knowledge is power in this situation,” Straughan said. “And the more knowledge we have, especially with omicron, knowing whether it’s truly COVID or not can really help matters.”

The rush is expected to continue, as the omicron variant continues to spread, compounding with the already strong delta variant for a record-setting winter surge.

More than 100,000 tests were reported by DHEC Dec. 29, after the agency took a holiday from reporting data beginning Dec. 24. Of the 11,252 tests reported today, 23,8% were confirmed positive, a peak above numbers seen during the recent wave spearheaded by the delta variant.

In addition, 8,744 new cases of the coronavirus were confirmed between Dec. 24-Dec. 28, and an additional 1,950 cases confirmed Dec. 29.

The United States’ record for daily cases was broken as the two variants converged, with the seven-day average new cases topping 267,000 Tuesday, according to a New York Times report. The omicron variant accounts for more than 73% of new COVID-19 infections in the nation.