The federal government is trying to play catch up. In a call with governors Tuesday, the White House said they hope to begin giving out 500 million at-home tests by the end of January.
Currently, people going to city and county-run mega-sites are facing hours-long lines. In Kashmere Gardens, there's a small pop-up site offering testing much faster, though people are having to wait much longer to learn if they've caught COVID-19.
"I saw a little sign on the side of the street that said 'Free COVID,'" Carol Galloway said, so she pulled her car in seven days ago to get tested.
Galloway said she was surprised that she didn't need an appointment, and there was no wait.
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"You swab your own nose and you put it in the tube. They hold it there. They get all your information, and they say, 'You'll be getting your results back within a few days.' But, that never happened," Galloway said.
Galloway went back out to the site to inquire about her results. No one answered the phone number she was given, and the email address that workers provided her with was incorrect. Her message bounced back.
When ABC13 tried to find out why, workers couldn't tell us who runs the collection site or how to contact them. They did provide the address for Texas Diagnostic Laboratories, which is an independent laboratory licensed with the federal government.
The office's authorized official, Shehzed Dalal, admitted they've been behind. "Omicron hit us like a truck," he said.
Dalal said the surge from omicron increased their workload by at least 500%, and at the same time, their staff was testing positive, too. "We scrambled to hire more people. We moved our operations to 24 hours. We hired more people and reached out to other friends and partner labs to send the overflow to them," he said.
They also had a hard time getting the supplies they need to run the tests over the holidays while shipping was backed up. Since then, the lab has found ways to make their equipment run the tests faster.
To deal with the delay, the lab stopped receiving samples for three days to get caught up. Dalal said anyone still waiting for results should get that information in the next 24 to 48 hours. "I do get it. We are all humans. We are working through it as much and as fast as possible," he said.
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It's not fast enough for Galloway, who is a great-grandmother. "I am in that high-risk category, and I want to know immediately," she said. "I want to know within at least two days."
She made appointments for her family at a city-run site, and shared a warning for the neighborhood she formerly served as a councilwoman. "I just want to make sure that this community is aware of the little red building on a parking lot on the corner of Hirsch Road and Kelley Street. Do not go there if you want your results back within 48 hours."
As of Tuesday night, Galloway was still waiting for her results, but her husband's came in around 8:30 p.m. The letter from Texas Diagnostic Laboratories shows he was tested on Dec. 28. They received his sample on Jan. 2, and he received his results on Jan. 4.
Texas Diagnostic Laboratories is regulated by the federal government through the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Inquiries and complaints can be made to the CLIA Houston region: 713-767-3340. The email address is CLIA.Houston@hhs.texas.gov.
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