COVID-19 tests increasingly hard to find in Johnson County, frustrating those who feel sick

COVID-19 testing

COVID-19 tests are increasingly difficult to come by in Johnson County and the greater Kansas City region. Meanwhile, new cases are hitting all-time highs with the spread of Omicron, and more people are in quarantine and isolation. Above, residents get tested at the Johnson County Department of Health and Environment's weekly testing clinic Wednesday.

It’s becoming increasingly difficult to find a COVID-19 test in Johnson County, even for residents showing symptoms.

Lenexa resident Kristi Fender and her 19-year-old stepson both developed a bad cough and felt achey and fatigued. She scoured the internet, looking for COVID-19 tests for him so he could get back to work. But nothing was available for at least a week, she said.

Some urgent care websites have said they take walk-in appointments, but when they went, she said, they found they had to wait for at least a week to get tested.

Meanwhile, they’ve struggled to find  COVID-19 at-home testing kits at local pharmacies, which have been flying off shelves since before the holidays.

For Fender, the uncertainty and frustration remind her of the early days of the pandemic, nearly two years ago.

“When COVID was first starting to be real, back in spring of 2020 and everybody was concerned and we were all staying home, to me, right now, it feels like we’re back there with a lot of uncertainty and not knowing how or where to get tested, or how we can be safe,” Fender said. “And the rules seem like they’re changing. It just seems like there’s still a lot of uncertainty two years later. We’re just having to figure out how we’re going to live with this on an ongoing basis, but it’s not easy to do.”

‘You can’t schedule sickness ahead of time’

“When COVID was first starting to be real, back in spring of 2020 and everybody was concerned and we were all staying home, to me, right now, it feels like we’re back there with a lot of uncertainty and not knowing how or where to get tested, or how we can be safe,” said Lenexa resident Kristi Fender, whose family became sick with COVID-19 symptoms.

Likewise, Jamie W. of Shawnee — who spoke with the Post, but did not want her last name used — says she struggled to find COVID-19 tests when she and her family became exposed to the virus and later started to feel sick.

They eventually found some at-home tests, but it was a challenge.

“It’s just really frustrating when you have a known exposure, it’s difficult to get a test,” Jamie said. “Whereas if you know you’re going to travel or go to a concert or whatever, you can schedule that ahead of time, but you can’t schedule sickness ahead of time. And so the people who actually have the sickness, we’re the ones getting the short end of the stick. We’re the ones stuck not getting a test.”

They quarantine in the meantime, or isolate if they’re symptomatic. But these stories echo what many Johnson Countians have experienced in recent weeks, at a time when COVID-19 positive case rates in local hospitals and those across the country are reaching all-time highs.

Further putting a strain on residents, many workplaces now require negative tests for workers to return to the job in person.

Hospitals rationing tests

Even local hospital systems are struggling with a supply of COVID-19 testing kits, and some have started rationing them for only symptomatic patients, according to information from several local hospital leaders in a press conference Wednesday.

Jill Chadwick, director of media relations for The University of Kansas Health System, said the testing crisis is a supply-and-demand dilemma.

“Tests are currently in high demand and supplies [are] short nationwide. We are changing some of our protocols internally to conserve testing,” Chadwick said. “We are using verbal screening to prioritize testing.”

Part of the COVID-19 testing kit shortage is caused by healthy people buying up kits after the holidays.

The Johnson County Department of Health and Environment only offers COVID-19 clinics on Wednesdays. A spokesperson said this is because the department is balancing staffing between testing and vaccination efforts. Above, nurse practitioner Latasha Reed administers a COVID-19 test.Above, residents get tested at the county health department’s weekly testing clinic Wednesday.

“It does seem like there should be a preference or a priority for people who are actually exhibiting symptoms or maybe have a known exposure over people who are just wanting peace of mind,” Fender said. “There are people in our situation who, like, we don’t know if we should go into work or not, if we’re a danger to other people if we go out, or if it’s just a bad cold. Either way, we don’t want to spread it, but it’s just good to know what we’re actually dealing with. We’re stuck without knowing.”

In Johnson County, people can sign up for an appointment at the county health department’s weekly drive-thru COVID-19 testing clinic.

Barbara Mitchell, public information officer for JCDHE, said the department is balancing staffing resources between testing and vaccination.

“Testing opportunities are difficult to access throughout the area and the nation currently,” Mitchell said. “The demand is due to the infectiousness of the variants and the rapid rise in disease incidence, as well as the number of people wanting to be tested before and after spending time with family and friends for the holidays.

“There are only so many testing sites and personnel to give tests, and the demand has far outweighed the supply of available options.”

If you can’t access a COVID-19 test but you’re symptomatic or have a known exposure, The University of Kansas Health System encourages you to stay home to avoid spreading germs or potentially transmitting the disease.

You’re also encouraged to try and get an appointment with your primary care provider as soon as possible.

If your symptoms worsen, then go to the emergency room, especially if you’re having difficulty breathing or are experiencing extreme fatigue.

You can also try to find testing opportunities through these two websites: PrepareMetroKC and the Kansas Department of Health and Environment.