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Demand high for COVID-19 testing; issues reported with Erie County hotline

An Erie County spokesperson said Thursday more than 1,400 calls were received, and the number of dropped calls was not specified.

BUFFALO, N.Y. — The recent rise in COVID-19 cases in Western New York is making it hard for some people to get tested for the coronavirus, even if they believe they're infected or have been in close contact with a carrier.

With testing capacity limited by the global supply chain and lab capacity, that trickle-down impact is making both public and private options harder to come by.

On the public side, a State Department of Health spokesperson told 2 On Your Side that drive-up testing sites in downtown Buffalo and Niagara County typically handle around 1,100 tests per day; 600 in Buffalo and 500 in Niagara.

Because of recent demand, they've been trying to push that number by a few each day, said New York State Department of Health spokesperson Gary Holmes. Both sites are limited by the number of appointments they make, a requirement for anyone hoping to get tested.

"Western New York has seen its rates climbing in recent weeks, and that brings with it an interest in wanting to get tested, which I think is a good sign. And most people are paying attention, are focused on the importance of getting testing as one of the means to slow the spread," Holmes said.

But testing isn't a replacement for social distancing and mask-wearing, he added.

Erie County's testing capacity, according to Dr. Gale Burstein, on Thursday includes around 400 to 450 polymerase tests and 800 rapid tests per week, all of which also include an appointment.

An Erie County spokesperson told 2 On Your Side issues with their COVID hotline did prevent some people from scheduling a test Thursday. 2 On Your Side reporter Rob Hackford called nearly two dozen times and each time got disconnected.

Important to note, 1,400 callers did get through, according to the county spokesperson, who added that the county's tech team is working on a solution. Call volume also is heaviest in the mornings, so if you don't get through initially, it's best to call back at a different time.

"The second wave of COVID-19 is here, and we have to do everything we can to protect the whole community," Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz said Thursday.

As for private testing, sites such as WellNow, WNY Immediate Care, CVS, and Walgreens are listed at www.erie.gov/covidtestsites

Unfortunately, like many of the public options, testing space is limited.

Wait times Thursday at several urgent care locations were close to three hours, and many online bookings go into December.

Private testing may not be covered by insurance, so it's best to check before signing up. Erie County also recommends residents contact their physician for medical advice.


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