EVERETT — City officials want to relocate a free COVID testing site clogging a neighborhood street with bumper-to-bumper traffic.
On Thursday, cars stretched several blocks north of 2606 Wetmore Ave., boxing in driveways and street parking. Some people pulled into the unmarked standstill, unaware it was a testing line.
Site manager Ali Blackwell said law enforcement already rerouted the line last month because it was obstructing a route ambulances use to get to the nearby hospital.
“The week before Christmas it got insane,” she said, estimating that the line stretched several miles at its peak.
When the site opened a few months ago, workers tested about 10 people a day, Blackwell said. On Thursday, they were aiming to swab 400 noses. Some people began lining up at 6 a.m., three hours before it opened.
The Center for Covid Control runs the site, along with over 300 locations nationwide. A sign on the building advertises free tests. And no appointments are required, unlike every Everett testing location listed on the state Department of Health’s website.
“I just feel horrible for all the houses and cars,” Blackwell said. With roads recently covered in ice, drivers in line “were sliding all over the place, hitting cars. And that’s a hit and run, because they’re not stopping.”
Everett city spokesperson Julio Cortes said officials were aware of the traffic issues and were working with the site to find a better location.
“We are still early in the process but moving quickly as we understand the importance to continue to have a testing site available to the community while also maintaining traffic moving in the city,” he said in an email.
To match testing demand as omicron pushes infections to new heights, Washington state announced this week it will buy and distribute millions of at-home rapid tests.
In the meantime, people with symptoms, those who have been exposed and potential travelers continue to muddle through long waits, like the hours-long line on Wetmore.
On the ground, driver and neighbor morale varies.
“I don’t see a problem with it, but I’m on the right side of the street,” said Sherri Peterson, standing on her front porch on Wetmore. “I can’t blame them if they need to get a test.”
Peterson has seen some cars give up after several hours.
“It’s not fast-moving by any means,” she said.
Across the street, a neighbor drinking coffee on his porch described frustrated motorists yelling at cars cutting in line.
He recently walked into the street and tried to mediate an altercation.
“It irritates me just seeing it,” he said. “I think people are doing the best they can, but they’re understaffed.”
Some drivers had high spirits Thursday, like a duo listening to The Offspring behind the wheel. They reported they were “just boppin,’” despite spending 2½ hours in line.
Others, according to Blackwell, have been less than friendly.
Some negative Google reviews appear to have been left by people waiting in line. Sixteen of the 42 reviews are one-star, most of them written in the past week.
At the end of the day, Blackwell doesn’t let her staff turn people away themselves.
“I’ll take the L myself,” she said, as in “take the loss.” “I had some angry lady run over my foot the other day … but we have to go home, man.”
The free testing site may end up moving to south Everett, hopefully to somewhere cars can congregate in a parking lot rather than a street.
Then, Blackwell said, as many as 1,000 people a day could get tested.
“So,” she said, “if anyone wants a job … ”