Feeling Sick? Health Districts Set Up Free COVID-19 Tests in Richmond.

By Amie Knowles

December 29, 2020

Richmond and Henrico health districts joined together to offer 400 COVID-19 tests following holiday gatherings.

RICHMOND – Feeling under the weather? The explanation could be as simple as the drastic change in temperature last week. However, there could be more to a cough than that.

As COVID-19 continues spreading throughout the Commonwealth, the Henrico and Richmond Virginia Department of Health offices will host a special event on Tuesday, Dec. 29. From noon to 2 p.m., the VDH will offer free COVID-19 tests at The Diamond, located at 3001 N Arthur Ashe Blvd in Richmond. There are 400 tests available at the event.

Set up in a drive-thru format, patrons receiving the test simply pull up in their vehicle, provide their identification information, receive a swab and then go home.

The health districts are offering the large-scale event following holiday expeditions, which could cause a spike in area COVID-19 cases.  

The Holiday Rush

AAA Travel reported earlier this month that far fewer travelers would likely hit the road, rails, skies and seas during the 2020 holiday season.

The company estimated that 34 million fewer people would travel compared to the 2019 holiday season. However, they noted that as many as 84.5 million Americans could still travel from Dec. 23 through Jan. 3. The estimates projected a decline in travel of approximately 29%.

Of the 84.5 million expected to travel through the beginning of the New Year, it’s likely that several will carry – or already delivered – an unwanted gift to family members and friends: COVID-19.

With emphasis placed on discouraging gatherings since March to help reduce the spread of the novel coronavirus, people who went against the guidance sometimes have second thoughts about that decision. 

As Christmas ended and New Year’s approached, the health districts prepared for a potential influx of clients hoping to settle their minds – or confirm their fears.

“We’ve seen an increase in demand for COVID testing after a holiday,” said Lanier Olsson, community testing manager. “Folks think back on their time with families and start to wonder if it was the safest option. People want to know their status and we encourage that.”

While COVID-19 has the potential to flare up anytime between two and 14 days after exposure according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Harvard Health Publishing noted that symptoms typically appear within four or five days after exposure.

Cat Long, public information officer for the Richmond and Henrico Health Districts, noted that offering free COVID tests four and five days out from Christmas and Christmas Eve was not coincidental.

“It was definitely intentional,” Long said. “We wanted to schedule an opportunity for people to get tested after Christmas that allowed for the incubation period.”

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The Richmond Tests

Some testing sites require the presence of COVID-19 symptoms before a swab. Others request that children meet a certain age requirement. Those limitations do not apply at the event held at The Diamond.

“Testing is open to anyone,” Long said.

Unlike many COVID-19 tests at an urgent care center or certain doctor’s offices, the 400 tests available through the drive-thru event are not rapid tests. Results will not display within 15 minutes.

The VDH will administer polymerase chain reaction, or PCR, tests. The PCR tests are more sensitive and are less likely to show a false negative. Those taking the test will get their results back in two to five days.

If an individual receives a positive test result at the event, there’s no need to schedule a re-test to confirm the presence of the virus.

“They should immediately quarantine,” Long said. “One of our staff will walk them through what to do next based on that individual’s circumstances. We are here to help.”

New Year’s Celebrations

New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day often involve celebrations with family, friends and loved ones.

Unfortunately, with the pandemic still raging – and case counts on the rise following similar holiday gatherings – a boisterous chorus of Auld Lang Syne with a large group might need to wait.

“We saw a spike of positive COVID-19 cases following Thanksgiving. Although it’s too early to tell, we are anticipating there may be a spike following Christmas,” Long said. “We know that not celebrating the holidays like normal can bring up a range of emotions. But ultimately, protecting your health and the health of your friends, family and community is worth it.”

That doesn’t mean the New Year has to be boring. With a little creativity, 2021 can still enter with a bang. However, the party might have a few less folks and the traditions might be a little different.

“We recommend celebrating New Year’s with those who live in your household or virtually. That is the safest option, regardless of your test result. If you do celebrate with others outside of your household, there are things you can do to make it safer: get tested and quarantine until the celebration, keep the group to under 10, consider celebrating outdoors and have everyone wear a mask,” Long said. “A negative test indicates that you are negative at the moment that you were tested. So hypothetically, a person could test negative on Tuesday, but then pick up COVID-19 on Wednesday or Thursday before celebrating on Friday. If you’re relying on that negative test, it’s important that you quarantine between when you get tested and when you celebrate.”

Richmond Says Goodbye to 2020

As The Lost Year comes to an end, there’s a light at the end of what seemed like a 2,020-mile-long tunnel. It’s unlikely people will complain about 2020 ending at the end of the week.

Unfortunately, just because the clock strikes midnight on Jan. 1, 2021, that doesn’t mean all of 2020’s problems will vanish.

Long encouraged Virginians to remain vigilant in the fight against the novel coronavius as the New Year begins.

“There’s a lot to be hopeful about – we have two vaccines that will be distributed more broadly in 2021 and we have a better understanding of how COVID-19 works. That said, we are in a tough spot. Transmission is at an all-time high in Virginia and we’ve lost 4,861 Virginians to date to COVID-19,” Long said. “While we invest in vaccines, we can’t lose sight of our current prevention tools of social distancing and mask wearing.”

Registering for a COVID test

Event organizers encouraged registering for a test before arriving at the stadium on Tuesday. Remaining tests are available on a first come, first served basis.

Those interested in receiving one of the 400 COVID-19 tests may call (804) 205-3501 to register.

For more information about COVID-19 area testing providers or for information about the virus, visit the Richmond City Health District’s website.

Amie Knowles reports for Dogwood. You can reach her at [email protected]

  • Amie Knowles

    Amie is Dogwood's community editor. She has been in journalism for several years, winning multiple awards from the Virginia Press Association for news and features content. A lifelong Virginia resident, her work has appeared in the Martinsville Bulletin, Danville Register & Bee and NWNC Magazine.

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