Federal and local health officials ramp up COVID testing efforts


GREENVILLE, N.C. (WNCT) — COVID-19 testing sites across the country are seeing long lines ahead of Christmas.

This comes as President Joe Biden has announced a new winter plan to combat the virus.

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Vidant Medical Center officials said they’ve seen a slight increase in testing. What they’ve really seen is a rise in the percent positivity rate. Vidant is anticipating increased testing efforts in the new year as people return from traveling.

“Folks are traveling again,” said Dr. Dave Harlow, vice president of Allied Health for Vidant. “They may go into places where omicron is a bigger proportion of what they’re seeing. I anticipate those folks will, wittingly or not, bring it back.”

People are lining up in cities across the country to get tested before the holiday. The fast-spreading omicron variant is raging around the world.

“It replicates a lot faster even than the delta variant,” said Harlow. “It remains to be seen how that impacts places in Eastern North Carolina.”

While we aren’t seeing long lines in ENC yet, it’s something Vidant Medical Center is preparing for.

“We have invested in a lot of variations in testing, fast testing, large batch testing,” said Dr. Harlow. “We literally have it all and we are prepared for these eventualities.”

The federal government is also ramping up testing efforts. Biden’s winter COVID plan includes increased access to free testing.

“It’s been a huge need for a long time to have good and available testing,” said Vidant Medical Director of Infectious Diseases Dr. Ryan Gallaher.

The government is purchasing 500 million COVID rapid tests to ship to Americans free of charge starting in January.

“We’ll have websites where you can get them delivered to your home,” said Biden.

Even with more testing options on the way, federal and local health officials continue to stress the importance of getting vaccinated.

“Our hospitals are very full and with a simple vaccination, somebody might protect themselves enough to not land in the hospital,” said Harlow.

The president’s winter COVID plan also includes expanding hospital capacity, deploying additional medical personnel and sending out additional ventilators and equipment.

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