PLEASANT HILL, Calif. - As the countdown to Christmas Day winds down, the omicron-fueled surge in COVID cases continues across the US. Many families still planning to gather are turning to testing ahead of time.
"I just want to be able to participate in Christmas and be around the family," said Tim Conroy.
That wish to feel safer around relatives at Christmas dinner pushed him, along with his wife and two kids, to get tested at a walk-up site in Pleasant Hill Wednesday.
"We’re fully vaccinated, so we feel pretty comfortable. But I have a brand-new niece at home and she’s unvaccinated, so we’re going to do what we can to be safe," said Conroy.
He said he was lucky his wife was able to find an appointment. With so much demand for tests right now, it's become difficult to find a testing site with openings.
Some people without appointments were being turned away at the site near Diablo Valley College.
"It’s been kind of overwhelming because it’s just always so packed here, you know people are getting frustrated because we don’t have any extra appointments, and so we have to send them away. So it’s pretty sad," said Gabriella Rosas, a medical professional working the testing site.
She said the site usually does an average of about 150 tests per day, but this week they've been doing 250-300 tests.
"I think we’re going to be like that all this week and all next week," said Rosas.
At-home rapid tests are also hard to come by. Shelves at Walgreens and CVS in Berkeley were empty Tuesday night.
Some stores are limiting how many rapid tests a customer can buy, including Amazon, Walmart.com, Walgreens and CVS.
Dr. Peter Chin-Hong, an infectious disease specialist at UCSF, said if you can't get tested before Christmas, don't panic.
"If you’ve been fully vaccinated, and certainly if you’ve been boosted, you have like a close to zero chance of getting seriously ill," said Chin-Hong.
He said if you can't get tested ahead of Christmas, it's best to gather with a small group of people where you know everyone is vaccinated.
And if you want a rapid test, don't be discouraged. Chin-Hong suggested trying to find one at pharmacies in other cities, community centers or public health clinics.
A representative for Contra Costa Health Services said test kits are being given out at the offices of county supervisors, community organizations and other locations.
With the surge of cases, the Biden administration is promising 500 million at-home tests. They will be free to order online and delivered through the mail starting in January.
"Testing sites are going to be ramped up slowly. Staffing is going to be ramped up, so hopefully these lines will get shorter," said Chin-Hong.
He's hopeful the Bay Area can avoid a large surge in cases because people are frequently wearing masks and a large portion of the population is vaccinated.