COVID-19 in 2022: Demand for testing overwhelms labs, doctor expects to see January surge in hospitals

The demand for testing across the Phoenix-metro area is being felt on multiple fronts.

COVID lab, Saguaro Bloom, had 5 locations open on New Year's Eve, and many of them were booked for appointments.

"We were very, very busy a month ago, and right now we're probably 50% above that. All of our appointments, our daily appointments, are starting to get maxed out."

The labs' founder Dr. Jesse Greer says they've had to cap the number of patients they take in order to maintain their one-day result turnaround times. He's expecting the demand for testing to only go up.

"Everybody's going to go out and do their thing tonight, so there's going to be a lot of new cases that stem from tonight. And that'll continue on until this thing turns itself out."

Last week, Arizona's positivity rate was at 13%. This week, it jumped to 20%, according to the Arizona Department of Health Services.

If it's not lab tests, it's at-home tests. Cities like Mesa and Tempe started hanging out free at-home kits, but ran out within hours and sometimes minutes. They're tough to find in stores, too. 

Here's a list of places you can go to get tested for COVID-19 in Arizona:

What to expect in 2022

There is hope that this pandemic turns into an endemic sooner rather than later. Doctors say the Omicron variant spreads quicker but is less severe than the Delta variant.

"So the next couple of months in hospitals are going to be pretty tough."

Dr. Sam Durrani is asking the public to remain vigilant against COVID-19. He says hospitals are already short-staffed as the pandemic approaches the two-year mark in March.

Dr. Durrani attributes almost 90% of COVID cases health workers are seeing locally to the Omicron variant. He says hospitals could see a surge in late January.

"And it can happen even earlier where potentially we're going to have a surge in COVID volume and then our staff is also sick."

According to data from AZDHS, 69% of eligible people are vaccinated.

Dr. Durrani says Omicron's spread rate does have one positive. 

"The good news about Omicron spreading so fast is that potentially we get to the population level of herd immunity faster so the disease becomes endemic.

But surgical masks and cloth face coverings may not work as well, he says.

"If you really want to protect yourself, get a KN95 or an N95 if you're going out in public. Obviously, it's best to avoid public gatherings for the next few months, but that's not realistic in Arizona when everything's kind of a free-for-all."

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