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Reporter debrief: What it was like to try and get a free rapid test on Thursday

A photo of cars lined up on road.
Connor Cyrus
Cars snake through Colchester as Vermonters line up to get free rapid COVID tests from the Health Department on Thursday, Dec. 23, 2021.

About 25,000 antigen test kits were distributed on Thursday as part of an effort by the Vermont Department of Health to make testing more accessible.

Vermonters trying to get free rapid COVID tests encountered long lines of both cars and people at health centers, hotels, and other locations.

The Health Department says due to high demand, the state will increase the total number of rapid tests available to 96,000.

Starting Friday, sites will pass out two test kits per car or per walk-in on a first-come, first-serve basis.

The clinics will be open Dec. 24- 25, and Dec. 28-30. Dates vary by location. For more information visit the Health Department’s website.

Vermont Edition co-host Connor Cyrus was among those waiting in line this morning and he spoke to VPR Morning Edition host Mitch Wertlieb about what he saw. Their conversation is below and has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Connor Cyrus: I just want to start out by saying that these antigen rapid tests are becoming a competitive sport.

So, I went to the Colchester location — and I knew I was going to be on the later side of things — but I didn't think I was going to be as late as I was.

I showed up at about 7:30 a.m. and I was already … I think I counted 100 cars. So, I'm guessing I was car 104 by the time I was waiting in line for the test, and this was at 7:30 a.m.

Mitch Wertlieb: How long did you wait then?

I waited until 8:15 a.m. There were three cars in front of me. And that's when we got flagged away and we were told that they were all out.

I saw people getting out of their cars, people sending their spouses, people walking up from out of their cars to get these tests. I mean, when I tell you this was a competitive sport, I really mean that people were doing everything in their power to try to get their hands on some of these tests.

So, Connor, when you found out — and sorry that you were just three cars away before they ran out of the tests in Colchester. When you found out they were out there what was your next step? What did you do next?

So, after that I went onto the Department of Health's website. And I was like, “I think that there's a South Burlington location, and I think it starts at 9:30 a.m.”

So, I debated with myself, I was like, “Do I go back home and just try again tomorrow and wake up much earlier? Or do I go to South Burlington?” And so, I made the decision as a reporter and as a citizen, to just check out and see what was happening in South Burlington.

More from VPR: Reporter debrief: New Hampshire faces off against the COVID-19 surge

So, I ended up at the DoubleTree Hotel, and there was still a line, and it was supposed to open at 9:30 a.m. And when I told you there was already a line of 100 people Mitch — and it was growing by the minute.

I was able to get a test this time, but people told me that they had similar experiences. Some started out on Pine Street, some started out in Colchester, and that they were so desperate to get a hold of these tests they're like, “You know what, there's a last ditch effort for today.”

What do we know, though, about the total number of tests that are available? And this is not a situation where people should just give up if they didn't get a test today, right?

That's exactly right. And so, it's really just a game of timing. And just making sure that you're there on time, and make sure you read where these locations are and how they're distributing the tests. Because if tomorrow's anything like today, it is going to be cold, and I'm just so thankful that I had a jacket on.

And, Connor, this is speculation of course on our part, but what I'm assuming is that because at the time that you and I are talking it is the day before Christmas Eve, I guess the reason the lines were so long, particularly today, is because people want to get these tests in anticipation of traveling for the Christmas holiday.

That's right. And even some of the people that I spoke with in line, they're just worried about other relatives, even from Vermont coming over because they have young children who aren't vaccinated.

And these are just, you know, families that really are just trying to do what the state recommends and testing as much as possible. But like I said, getting a hold of these tests is a competitive sport.

A rapid or antigen COVID-19 test kit.
Anna St. Marie
One of the rapid or antigen COVID-19 test kits handed out today by the Vermont Department of Health.

I mean, when I tell you that when people got the test, and you can see the test, at the end of the line, people were cheering, they were walking out, they were so happy to get a hold of these tests.

Because I think it really is a sigh of relief for some of these people. I know for me, it was a sigh of relief, knowing that I can test myself to go home and see my family and I know that I am doing my part to not spread this virus.

And we should remind people these are these tests are being given away for free by the Health Department.

That's right. It was free. And actually the process was really simple. I walked up. They said, “How many in your household?’ I told them; they gave me my box.

Have questions, comments or tips? Send us a message or tweet Connor Cyrus @VPR_Connor.

Connor Cyrus was co-host and senior producer of Vermont Edition from 2021-2023.
A graduate of NYU with a Master's Degree in journalism, Mitch has more than 20 years experience in radio news. He got his start as news director at NYU's college station, and moved on to a news director (and part-time DJ position) for commercial radio station WMVY on Martha's Vineyard. But public radio was where Mitch wanted to be and he eventually moved on to Boston where he worked for six years in a number of different capacities at member station a Senior Producer, Editor, and fill-in co-host of the nationally distributed Here and Now. Mitch has been a guest host of the national NPR sports program "Only A Game". He's also worked as an editor and producer for international news coverage with Monitor Radio in Boston.
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