Sam Boyd Stadium played host to a familiar scene on Sunday night — lines of cars causing traffic delays as Nevadans faced hourslong waits to get a COVID-19 test at the valley’s largest site.
Health officials had earlier this week closed the site at UNLV’s Paradise Campus and moved to the stadium, hoping the larger area would allow for easier access and shorter wait times.
“We were hoping to have a little soft opening here,” said Billy Samuels, deputy fire chief at the Clark County Fire Department. “That didn’t happen.”
Some people showed up as early as noon to get in line at the site, which didn’t officially open until 5:30 p.m. and was scheduled to stay open through 10:30 p.m., though people who were on property at that time would be able to get a test.
Samuels said he expected over 2,000 tests on Sunday, breaking the record of 1,700 at the UNLV site. By 6 p.m., people near the front of the line said they had waited for about an hour and a half, depending on which direction they came from and how early they showed up at the site.
Demand for COVID-19 tests has skyrocketed around the country, fueled by the holiday season and the rise of the highly contagious omicron variant. Officials have struggled to keep up with the demand, especially as staffing issues continue to plague the healthcare system at all levels.
“Everywhere you go, there’s not enough staffing,” Samuels said. “Restaurants, hospitals, law enforcement, you name it. Staffing sucks.”
The site is being operated by the Nevada National Guard, Clark County officials and personnel from the Clark County Fire Department, Metropolitan Police Department and other agencies. National Guard soldiers have been working at testing and vaccination sites for years, said specialist Adrianne Lopez, so there isn’t much of a learning curve when a new site opens.
“Most of us, including myself, I’ve done almost every job that there is,” he said. “Frontlines, behind the scenes, logistics, all that good stuff. And a lot of these soldiers, they’ve been doing this too. They’re resilient, they’ve done this long enough and it’s just muscle memory at this point.”
Still, the number of National Guard personnel deployed to testing sites has dropped significantly since the pandemic began.
On Christmas Eve, Clark County’s 14-day moving average of daily tests was at 7,500, according to data from the state Department of Health and Human Services.
Just a few weeks later, that number topped 10,000, and does not included rapid at-home tests. The increased demand has also made it difficult to find a store that isn’t sold out of at-home tests, which are not tracked by county officials.
The 7-day test positivity rate in Clark County was above 40 percent, jumping over 32 percentage points in the last month, according to the Southern Nevada Health District.
Almost all the people at the stadium site stayed in their cars throughout the process, though branch director Joshua Lusch said walk-ins are accepted for people who don’t have vehicles or can’t get to the site with one.
Traffic clogged the area around the stadium Sunday night, with cars lined up hours before the site opened, including some streets that blocked residential areas.
Police were called to assist with traffic control, and Lusch said officials plan to change the traffic plan in the coming days.
Earlier Sunday, the health district announced that it plans to open two additional testing sites in the valley. The appointment-only locations — at a Texas Station parking garage and Fiesta Henderson — will operate for three weeks, and officials at the stadium urged people to make appointments in advance to get tested at other locations.
“Those opening up, that’s going to help out too,” Lusch said. “It’s going to mitigate quite a bit of this. Obviously the more testing sites we get in different parts of the valley, that’s going to help. It’s going to be busy at every testing site. There’s a big push for it, but the more we have, it’s going to mitigate our traffic issues and smooth the flow a little bit.”