MILWAUKEE - COVID-19 test providers in the Milwaukee area tell Contact 6 they’re busier than they’ve ever been.
The number of COVID-19 tests they’re administering daily has risen dramatically over the last month. That higher demand is impacting consumers looking for fast results.
Contact 6 met Jeremy Quandt as he sat in his car at a Hayat Pharmacy drive-thru testing site. Quandt needed a negative test result before seeing Rise Against perform at Summerfest.
Hayat Pharmacy wasn’t the first test site Quandt had visited that day as he sought a free, fast result. He wanted a PCR test with results within 24 hours.
COVID-19 testing site
"I was at the Midtown Center on Capitol and they had to shut down because they ran out of supplies," said Quandt.
The number of COVID-19 tests administered locally is up, and experts said that’s thanks to Summerfest, back-to-school and the delta variant.
Hayat Pharmacy hit a testing record on Sept. 1, when it tested 250 people at its Layton location.
CEO of Hayat Pharmacy Hashim Zaibak said their demand has risen since July for both antigen and PCR tests. Demand is also up for Hayat’s $190 one-hour PCR test. The one-hour PCR is a hot commodity among airline travelers, thanks to the pharmacy’s proximity to Mitchell International Airport.
"That’s the one people need when they are traveling internationally and they forgot to test," said Zaibak.
Rapid PCR tests are often free or covered by insurance when provided by a clinic or a test site with a grant. But, can you trust fast PCR results?
"I think we can. I think testing has come a long way," said Dr. Nasia Safdar, medical director of infection prevention at UW Health.
Safdar said PCR tests are still considered the gold standard of COVID-19 tests. PCR tests are more reliable than antigen tests that can be done at home or at a test site.
That high reliability is why PCR tests, whether rapid or not, are accepted for international travel and to return to school, and antigen tests are often not accepted.
"You can see why it’s attractive because it combines the advantages of a PCR and it doesn’t take as long as the usual PCR tests do," said Safdar.
People who want PCR test results back the same day may have to devote time to the task. Several community test sites don’t offer one-hour or same-day PCR results.
Rapid PCR COVID-19 test at Hayat Pharmacy
When Contact 6 tried to book a rapid diagnostic test at Walgreens, there was no availability locally within two days.
Phil Caruso of Walgreens Media Relations said in an email:
"We continue to see increased demand for COVID-19 testing across the country. Overall we are able to meet demand, with a capacity to perform up to 3 million tests per month, across our more than 6,000 testing locations throughout the country. We may experience intermittent delays in supply in some locations and are working with all of our testing partners to meet patient demand."
Summit Clinical Laboratories is currently offering same-day PCR test results at its five walk-in locations. The lab’s demand is way up, from 200 tests per day one month ago at its five locations, to more than 1,500 tests on Sept. 2.
Just how busy is Summit Clinical Laboratories? A lab representative had an interview scheduled with Contact 6 but had to cancel because they were too busy doing COVID-19 tests.
"Because of the perfect storm of the delta variant, Summerfest and beginning of school the demand for testing has been greater than we have ever seen," Faisal Ahmed-Yahia, director of sales and outreach at Summit Clinical Laboratories, wrote in an email to Contact 6.
COVID-19 testing demand at Summit Clinical Laboratories
Six to eight weeks ago, Summit Clinical Laboratories was seeing a positivity rate of 1-2%. In the past few weeks, it’s been seeing a 10-15% positivity rate.
Summit Clinical Laboratories closed its clinics from Sept. 3-7 due to a shortage of collection supplies.
Cases of COVID-19 have been rising in Milwaukee County since early August and are the highest reported since winter. Overall, case numbers are still not nearly as high as the number of positive cases the area experienced in the fall of 2020.
Milwaukee’s community test sites, which offer PCR results within 48 hours, are conducting more tests, too. The Milwaukee Northwest Health Center and the Milwaukee South Side Center administered a combined 599 tests on Sept. 2. By comparison, the two health centers administered 241 tests on Aug. 2. They administered a combined 38 tests on July 6.
Milwaukee County COVID-19 activity rise
Currently, about 10% of tests at Milwaukee’s health centers are seeing a positive result.
"I assume it has to be for all these festivals," said Quandt to Contact 6, about one minute before getting swabbed for his own COVID-19 test.
The natural first call for many people seeking a COVID-19 test is to their doctor. However, while many hospital systems offer PCR tests with same-day results, the tests are often reserved for hospitalized patients or those having surgery. Other patients are often referred to a public test site.