Long lines for COVID tests — and extended waits for results — plagued New Yorkers nearly a week into the Omicron wave, spurring Mayor Bill de Blasio Monday to promise to bring city-run fixed-location testing sites back up to pre-surge levels.
Testing centers operated by the city’s Health and Hospitals Corporation reported at least an hour wait at most sites by Monday afternoon, while New Yorkers at some locations — including Elmhurst and Woodhull hospitals in Queens — endured chilly two-hour slogs. Still, some New Yorkers said they spent over four hours in line.
De Blasio pledged earlier in the day to open 20 new brick-and-mortar testing sites — as many as the city shuttered in recent weeks — and said he’d add three more mobile sites. That would bring the total number of city-run testing locations to 112 by Christmas Eve.
“We’re going to keep expanding test capacity constantly as we fight Omicron,” de Blasio told reporters.
He said boosting availability of at-home testing kits beyond the 500,000 he’s already promised to distribute would prove a “really key piece of this puzzle.”
Testing and vaccinations are crucial to keeping the city running, the mayor said, as both he and Gov. Kathy Hochul vowed to avoid shutdowns like those seen at the start of the pandemic in March 2020. The governor said she wouldn’t close schools, even amid reports of rampant absences with the holiday break nearing.
Attendance in city schools was 80% on Monday, according to the Department of Education.
Hochul, meanwhile, reported that the state on Monday broke another daily record for COVID infections, logging more than 23,000. Among the latest victims: Dr. Mary Bassett, the state’s health commissioner, who tested positive for the virus despite being vaccinated and boosted.
At test sites around the city, New Yorkers complained of long wait times — and delayed or missing test results.
Jill Woodward, 53, and Ryan Miller, 43, both got tested Saturday at a city-sponsored, privately run rapid-test van parked on Columbia Street on the Lower East Side, after waiting in line for 4 ½ hours. They received both antigen and PCR tests.
By Monday, only Miller had received his PCR results back, and neither had received their antigen results — so they lined up again on Monday at the NYC Health + Hospitals/Gouverneur facility.
“[The testing vans] need to be audited regularly,” Woodward said, adding that she’s been unable to contact the operators to get test results.
Those on the line were given the option to take a rapid test or wait for a PCR, and Woodward took the rapid a while later, she said.
“It could be much better,” said Tracy Winfield, 55, who lives on the Lower East Side but went up to a mobile testing van in Harlem Monday morning to get her work-mandated test. She hoped to receive some take-home tests at the site closest to her home.
At a city-run testing van in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, people waited in line in the cold for hours on Monday.
“We’ve been waiting an hour and a half and it’s pretty mundane,” said Vivian Chong, 19.
“I feel like they’re taking a long time because of the screening and registering and they’re not making it very clear,” added Chong, who came to the city-run van because the lines at her local CityMD were too long.
Newly arrived New Yorker Trinity Bullock, 21, had been in line for 2 hours and wasn’t even close to the front. The wait was “horrible and freezing,” she said.
“I just moved here three days ago, and in Atlanta it’s in and out,” she said.
At 5 p.m., the test vans were starting to get swapped out.
At one testing site in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, the line wrapped around the block. Some people noted the signage didn’t make it clear they were in the right place.
“It’s cold and the line is long. I just hope this line moves quickly,” said Emily, a 19-year-old student who asked that her last name not be published.
‘We Still Need More’
Relief could be on the way, though: Kathryn Garcia, the state’s director of operations, announced Gov. Kathy Hochul’s office planned to distribute five million more COVID tests across the state by the end of the year, with 1.6 million tests headed to New York City, she said.
Another five million tests will be given out in January, with two million of them to be sent out to schools.
Garcia also announced the state plans to send a letter to President Joe Biden, who is expected to address the nation on the Omicron surge Tuesday, calling on him to invoke the Defense Production Act to produce more tests.
“We still need more and we need more partnership from the federal government,” she said.
“We need them to help make sure that there are tests available to anyone who needs it, because we will continue beating the drum that we want you to be able to take personal responsibility and protect your loved ones by knowing whether or not you are positive with COVID and to stop transmission,” Garcia added.
While no one in city or state government has publicly talked about a shutdown, there were signs of at least a slowdown of activity during what many had hoped would be a return to a vibrant holiday season.
Performances of “Hamilton” and “Aladdin” have been suspended until after Christmas, and it’s unclear whether Times Square will be open to New Year’s Eve revelers.