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COVID: Rising Omicron Variant Concerns Make Finding a Test Harder in Bay Area

PLEASANT HILL (KPIX) -- Five days out from Christmas and a lot of to-do lists are changing as omicron COVID variant concerns loom over everything from travel plans to holiday parties.

The rising concern has also made getting tested a challenge. If you wanted an appointment at the state-run testing site in PLeasant Hill Monday, they were all taken and no walk-up spots available.

Testing sites from San Francisco to Contra Costa County are suddenly booked solid with appointments for the worried and the cautious.

"I had a little scratchy sore throat this morning, and I thought, 'Well it's maybe not COVID,'" said Katie Jagoe of Pleasant Hill. "But what if it is? So just an abundance of caution."

Jago was lucky enough to have an appointment Monday, and now she's reassessing any group activities.

"We are definitely changing plans this week," Jagoe said.

Omicron has gotten a lot of people's attention. Pharmacies are also struggling to keep at-home tests on the shelf.

"We came down here to Walgreens to get the home test kits just as a security measure," said San Francisco resident Chuck McCune.

UCSF Epidemiologist Dr. George Rutherford told KPIX people are smart to be wary and to test frequently with the rise of omicron.

"I have a daughter coming home from college tonight, and I'm going to test her when we get in," said Rutherford. "I don't want to really mess around with this."

But Rutherford also noted that the Bay Area has reason to be confident. Omicron does not appear to be more dangerous than the delta variant, and vaccination offers protection.

"We are almost in a unique situation," Rutherford said. "We have a very high vaccination rate, we have a very hard vaccination coverage. We have a lot of boosting that's going on. I could easily see the omicron surge, which is coming right now, it would be fairly blunt in California. At least in the Bay Area of Northern California."

The San Francisco Department of Public Health released the following statement regarding testing in the city:

"As we expected, we are experiencing an increase in demand for COVID-19 testing during the busy holiday season; we prepared for this scenario and have systems in place to administer 20,000 per week at SFDPH-affiliated sites," the statement read. "This number does not include tests being done at larger health institutions. San Francisco has over 40 testing sites and individuals should access tests through their health care provider if they have one.  Those who need to get tested at  SFDPH-affiliated sites, can do so at our high volume or community-based testing access points."

Officials also noted that on Monday they increased capacity at the SFDPH-high volume SOMA site from 700 appointments to 1,200 appointments per day. In the last month, the SFDPH additionally opened a testing site at Southeast Health Center where we can collect 1,200 samples a week

The Alemany Farmers Market and other community sites are also accepting same-day walk-ins without an appointment for those experiencing symptoms and in need of immediate testing

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