by Shawn Chitnis

SAN MATEO (KPIX) — Long lines wrapped around the San Mateo Marriott parking lot on Thursday as people hoped to get tested for COVID-19 before New Year Eve as concerns about the omicron variant collided with plans for holiday gatherings.

“Everyone has to get tested. We want to make sure that everyone is safe,” said Becca Ackerman, a parent in line with her children.

This site operated by Virus Geeks can accommodate 4,000 tests per day. People may walk up or drive through without an appointment. It is an important resource for people like Ackerman who not only have concerns about the new variant and large gatherings but also about students returning to school next month.

“I do think it is unprecedented demand — a combination of … factors,” said Laura Shih, San Mateo County public health COVID-19 program manager.

Virus Geeks saw a focus on testing recede in the spring as the vaccine rollout shifted the public health emphasis.

“We started recognizing a trend and what was happening was people were getting vaccinated so testing started subsiding,” said Frank Lee, CEO and founder of Virus Geeks.

With the delta variant and its surge, testing increased over the summer in the Bay Area and around the country.

Lee says the company will maintain its staffing and resources through 2022. He anticipates COVID and the need for testing will remain for years. In the weeks ahead, demand will still be high but the holiday bump should make it easier to get tested, according to local health officials.

“I think that the hope is that, post holidays, the holiday surge will ease a little bit and there may still be high demand with the variant going around,” Shih told KPIX.

Ackerman has already built a routine for her family as she gets tested regularly through work. She was surprised to see so many people in line but knows it’s an important service needed for all. Health officials say people should get tested three to five days after any gatherings during the holidays.

“It wasn’t this crazy the last time we were here, honestly. We made an appointment and came by this morning and saw the line to the end of the freeway and we left,” Ackerman told KPIX. “I think, with omicron, people are scared and rightly so. It’s important to get tested, it’s important to keep the community safe.”