Long lines greet those getting free COVID test kits in New Castle

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NEW CASTLE — Vehicles arrived from all directions early Saturday, clogging roadways for several hours at the New Castle County Government Center.

The first would-be recipient of a free iHealth antigen COVID-19 self-test kit arrived at 6:15 a.m., in anticipation of a 10 a.m. start. The vehicles arrived steadily soon after, and officials moved the start time up by an hour.

For Terre Gilchrist of New Castle, the more than hour-long wait in line was a great tradeoff for receiving one of the 6,000 kits (two tests in each kit) distributed to the public.

“I haven’t been able to get a test anywhere,” she said. “I knew they were available here, today, so I came out. This has been a great day for me, an excellent experience.”

County government procured the rapid test kits that arrived Thursday, and quickly mobilized to set up the event two days later. Around 30 county employees and volunteers passed out kits, received a bevy of thank-yous and directed traffic that seemingly never stopped.

After numerous unsuccessful searches for tests at Rite Aid, Walgreens and Curative locations, Donna Dougherty let out a big sigh and said she was feeling “relief” as she neared the distribution point with husband Thomas in their vehicle.

“We’ve got grandchildren and don’t want them to get sick,” Ms. Dougherty said. “We watch them so we need the test.”

Mr. Jackson concurred, adding that “We just want to get to the home stretch of this virus.”

While Wilmington resident John Harrod said “I knew there would be a line but was surprised how long it was,” Newark’s Rod Simmerman was nearly 80 minutes into his wait and said, “It’s going to take a long time to get one kit, and it’s not worth it, not like this.

“My wife said go get me a kit and I said ‘OK; so here I am ... At one point a lady even cut in front of me in line.”

Newark’s Starlene Griffin was thinking of her three daughters while creeping forward in line.

“I want to make sure everyone is OK so I figured if I get the test then I’ll be able to test them accordingly if they were to get sick,” she said.

“It’s definitely worth the wait. It’s a great thing they are doing here and they’re definitely organized.”

After waiting four days to receive a test result last week, Wilmington’s Lulu Kaliaher was ready to go rapid as needed.

“I was visiting family and just wanted to make sure I had the results in time,” Ms. Kaliaher said. “Now, I’m excited that if I’m concerned about anything, I can just do it at home and feel my family can be safe instead of waiting for a few days not knowing what the situation is.”

There are more tests kits on the way for future events, New Castle County Chief of Staff Aundrea Almond said, along with noting that “We were happy to get the kits out into the community because kits sitting on a shelf don’t do anybody any good.”

Obstacles continue, though, because “Supply has been a challenge for tests across the country. That’s been in the news at the national level and that’s been the case at the local level as well.”

As he directed traffic, New Castle County Councilman Dave Smiley opined that “It’s very important that you put all the tools you have out there to help try to stem the tide of this pandemic and to provide a comfort level for people who perhaps want to go see their family. If they can do a rapid test and take that comfort level with them along with a mask, that’s great.

“Unfortunately we’ve gotten to the point where (the tests) are so hard to come by, that people can’t get them the way they used to and now your retail stores are raising the prices on that.”