It was a trip that would have been easy pre-coronavirus: going back to my suburban hometown in New Jersey, a two-hour train ride outside the city, for a friends’ backyard elopement. But in the pandemic, the invitation from my mom a week before the small gathering – comprised entirely of families who’d been carefully quarantining in the suburbs and me, the interloper from the city – required some forethought.
We planned the precautions I’d take during my visit: I’d lay low in New York in the days before the trip, we’d keep masks on, we’d eat meals outside, I’d sleep in the den with a separate door to the yard. And, my mom said, taking a Covid test as close as possible to when I was supposed to leave would be a good idea.
I’d been seeing more and more of my friends try to make Covid tests a routine part of their life in New York, checking on exposure after protests or beach days or riding the subway. The only problem was the timing: I’d also heard horror stories about waiting for weeks for results that became pointless.
Where’s the fastest place to get a coronavirus test in New York City right now? I did a little research – and talked to some friends – and here’s what I found out.
MY TEST & RESULTS
Tasked with the goal of getting a quick-turnaround Covid test in Brooklyn, I started asking around. My roommate had gone to a facility near our apartment in Bedford-Stuyvesant in late June and gotten results back a week afterwards – too long for me. Woodhull Hospital, however, is an easy 20-minute walk from my place, and I’d seen a few tweets saying that people got results within 40 or so hours going there.
It was a beautiful day out, and I needed the exercise, so I strolled to Woodhull last Wednesday with just about 48 hours to spare before I needed to pack my bags for New Jersey. (I live on the edge.)
Other than a lack of signage – the hospital is like a rabbit warren once you get past the front desk and the temperature check at the entrance, and it’s easy to get lost – everything was pretty straightforward. In a dingy, windowless waiting room with chairs spaced far apart at the back of the hospital, I filled out a short form and gave the woman at the front desk my insurance information (plenty of folks coming in after me said they didn’t have insurance, and were seemingly still allowed to move forward without paying).
A nurse came out after around five minutes of waiting to give me another temperature check. After fifteen or so additional minutes, I was called into a separate back area, where two nurses in full scrubs and face masks administered the nasal swab in one room and drew blood for the antibody test in an adjacent room. I walked out of the hospital around half an hour after I’d gone in, and grabbed an iced coffee on the way home.
Friday morning rolled around with no calls and nothing in my inbox, and I was starting to worry – I’d heard that results were emailed, but was I missing some sort of signup procedure? Were the results going to be slower than I thought? Did I mess this up? I called the New York Health + Hospitals helpline and selected my borough for more service.
After a 15-minute wait on the phone, I was put on the line with a very helpful operator (thanks, Margaret), who looked up my information and figured out that my results were available, but my name had been entered with a typo. An email inviting me to sign up for MyChart, the New York Health + Hospitals online results portal, appeared as I was speaking to Margaret; I got my results immediately after I created an account. (Negative on both active infections and antibodies.)
WHAT HAVE OTHERS EXPERIENCED?
My test was so painless that I began to get curious about what testing had been like for other New Yorkers. Is testing this quick everywhere else? Does it vary by location, or who is running the tests? I put out a call on my Twitter to see what was up.
Just over 20 New Yorkers got back to me with their testing stories. All of this is anecdotal, of course, but I saw some interesting patterns emerge as I was going through the responses.
The overwhelming majority of respondents – 15 people – had gotten tested (or had partners, friends or roommates get tested) at CityMD locations, which most people said were more convenient to their apartment or were where they’d heard friends say to get tested. Here, there seems to be a clear difference in timing: June and May seemed to give faster results, while everyone who got tested in July reported several days before receiving results.
Some even told me that they’d gotten tested twice – once in May or June, once in July – with significant new lags in the July tests. My friend Alex Nicoll, a reporter for Business Insider, told me he’d gotten results from CityMD in May after three days. “My [girlfriend] went this am [August 3] and was told it will take 2 weeks,” he wrote.
These folks aren’t alone. If you look at CityMD’s Twitter, you’ll see most of their replies are to people asking why their Covid tests are taking so long. “We rely on our lab partners and due to increased national testing demand, turnaround times are currently averaging 10 days, with a minimum of 7 days for test results,” the company repeatedly tells frustrated customers. (We’ve reached out to CityMD for additional comment and will update this piece accordingly if they get back to us.)
Fewer people I talked to visited New York Health + Hospitals locations or locations run by the state of New York, but those results seem to be closer to mine: three people said their or their friends’ New York Health and Hospitals results came back within 48 hours (although one person got results back from a Ridgewood location after 12 days).
Two people reported quick results from NYU Langone locations as well. But avoiding CityMD doesn’t mean you’ll get a quick result: as CHC reported last month, a friend of our founder Jeanne Pinder visited a CVS on Long Island and waited 13 days for results.
WHY THE DIFFERENCES?
The New York Times reported in late July that CityMD’s New York tests are sent to a Quest Diagnostics testing lab in New Jersey for processing. The city’s public hospitals like Woodhull, The Times reported, are using a different strategy:
The city’s public hospital system…sends many samples to BioReference Laboratories, which currently has a turnaround time of two to three days for nonpriority samples, said Dr. Jon R. Cohen, executive chairman of BioReference, one of the nation’s largest commercial laboratories.
BioReference is using a “pooling” technique, where if a batch tests negative, all the samples are deemed negative. If it tests positive, each sample must be individually tested. (For more on pooled testing, check out our post on surveillance testing.)
Self-reporting the speed of certain testing spots in New York seems to be growing in popularity on Twitter: some reporters (and other users) have taken to sharing their experiences with the lags at different testing sites.
HAVE YOU GOTTEN TESTED RECENTLY?
It’s clear that some testing facilities in New York City are doing a better job than others – so we’re interested in hearing about your experiences.
Have you gotten tested recently? Are you waiting for results, or did you get them quickly? Tell us about it! Shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or reach out on Twitter @mollytaft.