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San Diegans are working every angle to get tested for COVID

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Nicholas McVicker/KPBS
Bay Ho resident Adam Epstein (left) has his nose swabbed during for a PCR test at the Santa Fe transit station in downtown.

Just ahead of the New Years Holiday San Diego County is seeing a record number of COVID-19 cases reported. Bay Ho residents Laurie and Adam Epstein were getting a free COVID test at the Santa Fe transit station.

“We’ve actually been looking to get tests for a couple of days and she actually got one yesterday and it was an hour plus wait,” said Adam. “And we were just driving down the street here, flipped a quick U-turn and we’re done.”

Demand for testing in San Diego is way up, and because of the New Years holiday on Friday and Saturday the county’s popular testing sites are closed and people are reporting trouble finding rapid tests at pharmacies, so they are looking for alternatives.

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Free tests at the Santa Fe Depot transit station downtown come thanks to a partnership with the Metropolitan Transit System. Daniel Navarrette is with testsd.io, the partner administering the PCR tests.

“With MTS we’d like to serve the underserved community and so the patients that we do… we take everyone, regardless of immigration status, regardless of insurance,” he said.

RELATED: San Diego County reports daily record of COVID-19 cases, officials urge small New Year's celebrations

Transit testing centers won't be open over the holiday weekend, but they were one of the few no-cost locations still open downtown Friday. Tessy Cranford and Alfredo Ramirez got tested there along with their daughter. The couple said they might have been exposed over the holidays and are not going out to ring in the new year.

“We don't want to spread it because we can be asymptomatic and we don’t know,” Cranford said.

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County health officials reported just under 6,000 positive tests were taken on Thursday. That’s a new pandemic daily case record, and that number doesn’t include any of the rapid tests San Diegans have been taking at home.

In a statement a county spokesperson said, “As it has all week, in the face of rising numbers of infections, the County of San Diego urges people to limit their gatherings to small groups of vaccinated and boosted individuals.”

San Diego Testing sites see high demand as cases spike again

Also downtown, people lined up outside the COVID Clinic. The private company offers rapid results, but for a price.

“Everybody is making a business out of it,” said Pradeep Ravi, who was visiting from San Jose.

Ravi said he was exposed to someone else who tested positive. He’s traveling internationally soon and says he paid $299 for a rapid PCR test at the COVID Clinic.

“I already postponed my flight,” he said. “Knowing the time frame, I wanted to know it in a short time, but it’s pretty expensive.”

Ravi is hoping to get reimbursed by his insurance. Local health care systems said they are getting swamped with people looking for tests too. At Sharp Healthcare, officials are currently limiting testing for those at the highest risk. Those include people with underlying medical conditions and those over age 65.