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Demand For COVID Tests Surges Ahead Of Christmas; Waltham Runs Out Of Free At-Home Kits

WALTHAM (CBS) - A long line throughout Waltham Government Center soon became a disappointed crowd Tuesday night, as the city ran out of the thousands of COVID-19 rapid antigen at home tests it was handing out for free.

Waltham received roughly 8,000 of the free tests through the state's recently announced program aimed to keep people safe throughout the holidays. The first 6,000 tests were sent to the homes of people with serious health issues or who are lower income. The remaining 2,200 were distributed at the city's main building on a first come, first served basis.

When some people saw the line wrapped around the stairs, they left without trying. "This is ridiculous!" one woman yelled as she turned around and left. "I signed up to get it at my house and I never did. This is a crock of [expletive]."

The tension was tangible as people scrambled to get their hands on the at home rapid tests, which are flying off the shelves at area pharmacies. Medical experts and political leaders have touted the antigen tests as a way to safely and quickly test yourself before a holiday gathering with family and friends.

"I'm very sorry but this is all the supply that I have," Waltham Mayor Jeannette McCarthy told the last 16 people who were able to get a test before the rest were turned away.

"I stood in line, I got all the way to the top of the stairs," one woman lamented to WBZ. "Sorry, we are out."

"They want us to get them to be safe so I'm a little disappointed. I don't think they organized it very well," another woman said.

The mayor told those in line that the city would order more tests in January, some comfort for those frustrated in line – but not enough to help for the coming holidays.

In Boston, approximately 700 people opted for a different test: an in-person PCR at Tufts Medical Center's walk in clinic. At times Tuesday, the line was a nearly three-hour wait wrapped outside the clinic.

"Testing over the last 48 hours has skyrocketed," said Nick Duncan, the Director of Operations and Emergency Management at Tufts.

Some in line say the peace of mind is worth the long wait. "Well, it's a lot of people, but it's worth it to be honest to be safe so I don't mind the wait at all," said Keith Green, who was in town to visit his 85-year-old mother for Christmas.

It's not only peace of mind, though, but Duncan said the clinic has seen a rising number of positive results, consistent with the rise in cases in Massachusetts. "It's also turning into [people being] positive for COVID, which is unexpected for some people, which is unfortunate because they are trying to do the right thing," Duncan said.

The walk in PCR-only clinic at Tufts has doubled its staffing and plans to open for four hours on Christmas Eve morning to help accommodate the demand.

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