By Conor McCue

(CBS4) – As the omicron variant leads a surge in cases nationwide, COVID-19 testing remains in high demand, but the tests themselves are in short supply. Stores are running out and testing sites are seeing long waits in many states, including Colorado.  

After several community sites in the metro area reached capacity Sunday, the demand continued to start off the new week. At the Water World and Front Range Community College testing sites in Westminster, cars snaked through parking lots and held up traffic at times Monday.

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In Lone Tree, the site at Sky Ridge Medical Center closed early after lines stretched onto the nearby road for hours. At one point, Jimmy Garcia even got out of his car to walk his dog and see how many vehicles were ahead of him.  

“Just checking out the line to see how many hours it’s going to take,” Garcia said.  

The Douglas County resident has been feeling sick since last week, but until now, he, like many Coloradans, has struggled to find a test.  

“I had been trying for three days now, since before Christmas, to get tested, and it hasn’t been working,” he said.  

The strain on testing sites comes as the highly contagious omicron variant spreads more and more. Dr. Kenneth Lyn-Kew, a critical care specialist with National Jewish Health, tells CBS4 the high demand for testing after the holidays was expected, as well as an increase in cases to follow.  

“I think we’re all expecting a surge, even if everyone is not saying it outright,” Lyn-Kew said.  

According to Lyn-Kew, the surge could lead to further strains on testing and hospitals, but in a different way than earlier in the pandemic.  

“What we’re seeing with omicron is less severe disease, but if you have ten times the number of cases, you’re going to end up with the same number hitting the hospital, even if it’s a tenth as harmful,” Lyn-Kew said.  

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Lyn-Kew, like many other experts, says being vaccinated and boosted is the ultimate protection at this point. After that, testing is an important tool for identifying disease so it can be treated properly.  

“If you have any symptoms, you should be getting a test. If you are completely asymptomatic and you were doing the right things, masking up, you’re vaccinated, you’re boosted, you don’t need to have a test to have a test,” he said. “That’s one way to free testing up for other people.”  

While the CDC has updated its guidance to shorten quarantine times from 10 days to five days if you get COVID,  it still recommends you wait to get a test 5 to 7 days after an exposure. 

Conor McCue