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COVID-19 rapid tests in Northeast Ohio: Where can you find them and what you should do if you can't

“People are using the word avalanche, tsunami, and that's really what it feels like."

CLEVELAND — Those nasal swabs may be slightly softer than a needle. But they still bring tears to your eyes, and are just as hard to find in a haystack.

“We are completely out of COVID tests and do not know when we'll receive more,” says the answering service at Heights Libraries just after it picks up.

It was the first thing we heard frequently and saw at the top of websites as we searched for them in Northeast Ohio on Wednesday. The free rapid tests the state is promoting on its website are wiped out at libraries and other community sites. This includes, but is not limited to, all Cuyahoga County Library locations, Signature Health Locations in Cuyahoga and Lake counties, all the state’s listed Summit County Libraries and other locations, Stark Libraries and more.

Even if you're willing to buy a test kit for around $20, that is difficult. A Walgreens location near Cleveland told us it won't have stock locally until January, which is when Amazon’s tests are shipping.

Some CVS locations appeared to have tests in stock online. But at least “in stock” location one we visited, on East 9th Street downtown, had signs on the door “NO COVID TESTS.”

Conversely, we bought a test at the Meijer in Avon, where the website lists them as out of stock.

Walmart’s website showed select locations had stock as well.

But doctors acknowledge it’s not enough. “There's a lot of people that need to be tested. A lot of people that have COVID and there's not enough capacity to do all the testing,” said Dr. Daniel Rhoads, MD, the head of microbiology at Cleveland Clinic.

“People are using the word avalanche, tsunami, and that's really what it feels like,” said Dr. Melanie Golembiewski with Neighborhood Family Practice. When they’ve had tests, they’ve tried to get them to the most vulnerable city communities.

“I could do thousands of tests today at Neighborhood Family Practice, but I just can’t. And so we really need people to use common sense, practical tools to keep them safe,” Dr. Golembiewski added.

Cleveland Clinic is noting more positives than at any point in the pandemic – now 40 percent of all tests. The number of positives is more than 50 percent for anyone experiencing symptoms, which in breakthrough infections can be as mild as a sore throat or congestion.

“It’s hard. If you have symptoms and you can't find testing, then the best thing I would say is to assume that you have COVID until proven otherwise,” said Dr. Rhoads.

“If you're saying to me, ‘It's just a cold, I swear,’ Don't believe them. And you don't want their cold either,” said Dr. Golembiewski. “So whatever it is, keep it to yourself, keep a mask on, stay home.”

If everyone in your gathering feels well, “Think about your most vulnerable family member that you're going to see, how can you protect them?” she suggested.

Vaccines are the first line of defense. Then think about adding extra layers.

“There's no harm that's going to come from wearing a mask, if anything, it's going to help,” said Dr. Rhoads.

“We have to kind of go back to the basics and we have to distance, we have to mask, we have to think about being outside for so social gatherings,” added Dr. Golembiewski. “We hear the help is coming.”

That help through additional testing could be weeks away though.

If you're determined to find a rapid test now, and don't have one in hand, our best advice is check online locations by zip code, call stores directly, and perhaps, check in-store anyway. As we noted, online inventory isn’t always accurate.

Here are a few helpful links:

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