Andrew White and his wife, who is seven months pregnant, are vaccinated but were exposed to COVID-19 recently and wanted to get tested.
They had to wait 3½ hours past their appointment time Wednesday afternoon before they could receive a rapid test — and they were negative for the virus.
“We walked out of there at 6:30 yesterday, and my wife got a little emotional because (the staff) looked so exhausted in there," White said of his experience at the Our Lady of the Lake urgent care center on Coursey Boulevard.
As the Baton Rouge area grapples with an explosion of new cases driven by the delta variant and low vaccination rates, tests are becoming harder to come by across the city, highlighting the strain on the area’s health care system.
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Baton Rouge General officials reported “longer than usual” wait times for testing and vaccinations at their three Express Care locations. Walgreens’ website showed that four of its 10 locations that offer drive-thru testing in the area had no available appointments on Thursday afternoon.
And three Our Lady of the Lake urgent care centers are temporarily closed due to COVID-19 cases among the staff, contributing to the long wait White and his wife faced on Wednesday.
"We have had staff members across the board, like everywhere else, test positive," said Phil Rainier, spokesman for Premier Health, which operates The Lake’s urgent care centers. "Every day we look at our staffing and optimize how we're going to react and make sure we're delivering the maximum amount of care and doing it as conveniently as possible while still dealing with the conditions on the ground."
Rainier characterized the recent daily meetings that determine the system's response to the rapid surge in cases as a "war room."
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The locations at Highland Road and Airline Highway, O'Neal Lane, and in Galvez were all listed as closed on The Lake's website Thursday afternoon, citing "the recent increase in COVID infections, quarantine requirements, and strict safety protocols."
The closures are part of a plan to condense the facilities' work force in order to prevent further closures to the 19 centers, Rainier said.
The state of Louisiana and the Baton Rouge area are experiencing an unprecedented surge in new cases of COVID-19 driven by the more-infectious delta variant. Since the beginning of July, daily cases statewide have increased by more than 600%. Only 16 intensive care unit beds are open in the Louisiana Department of Health region that includes Baton Rouge, according to LDH data.
"The health system is being strained here, and urgent care is part of that system," Rainier said. "We consider ourselves to be the front door for Our Lady of the Lake. We don't see people that have emergencies, but as the emergency rooms fill up and don't have the capacity, people are going to show up at the urgent care."
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Last week, The Lake’s Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Catherine O’Neal, called the ongoing surge “the darkest days of the pandemic” for her hospital system.
Despite The Lake's efforts to spread out its urgent care center resources, people seeking tests for COVID-19 should expect some delays due to the surge in cases, Rainier said.
White said the wait he experienced on Wednesday was "worth the peace of mind" of receiving a negative test.
"People just need to be patient, because they need to get tested," White said.
Rainier also urged members of the public to be patient if they experience longer-than-normal wait times due to the surge in cases.
"This is uncharted territory for all of us and we're doing everything we can, which is part of the closing strategy, because it is so overwhelming right now," Rainier said.