person getting COVID-19 test illustration

Covid testing has become scarce. It’s much harder to get tested for Covid now, at least in New York City, an acquaintance told me yesterday.

He woke up on a recent Monday feeling a little rocky, and did a rapid test, which was negative. He said, “This still feels wrong, so I’m going to go get a PCR test to be safe.” And then his journey began.

He lives in Astoria, Queens. There was a place near his apartment that he had used before, but it didn’t show up on Google search. He has worked in the vaccine delivery space, and checked the assets available to him that way, but the New York City Test + Treat location on the city websites — where a test would be free — was far away, he said.

“I was just thinking to myself — I’m unwell,” he said. “I don’t want to have to walk very far or get in a car — I want to find a place locally.”

He had gone to a Mount Sinai outpost nearby to see if their testing popup was still operating — and he was told that he needed to go to the emergency room to get tested. (I called to confirm, and they said that I would indeed need to go to the ER for a full “triage” to get tested.

No, we won’t test you for Covid here

Now what? He said Google Maps showed a Quest Diagnostics nearby. He went, and used an iPad to check in — at the site. There was an immediate appointment. He said: “I was called in by the nurse. And then when I was in the room, the nurse asked me if I filled out the intake form, which I hadn’t. So she gave me a QR code to scan with my phone and go back into the waiting room to fill out the information. And within that portal, it was an option to sign to schedule an appointment.”

The intake form asked questions like “are you symptomatic” and “have you been exposed?” and “have you been traveling?” And then he looked for an option to schedule an appointment.

But there was not an option to schedule an appointment at his location. So he went to the nurse and asked her why not? She said, “Were you exposed to someone?” He answered, “Not that I know of.”

She said, “Are you symptomatic?” And I had checked within that form that I was experiencing mild symptoms. And she said, “Because you checked that you are symptomatic, we can’t test you here — it’s only for people that are traveling or who need a test for their work.”

Third time is a charm for a coronavirus test

So he had to try again. “Checking for the third time, I found an urgent care about like 20 minutes away walking, that was run through Northwell. And I was able to schedule an appointment like the next 20 minutes.”

He went, gave his insurance information, and then was seen by a physician’s assistant and then a doctor. They did the test, he said, and gave him a link and told him to wait for 45 minutes, like for results for a PCR test. So he went home.

The next wrinkle: It wasn’t seamless. You had to remember your login password. And the phone number connected to his account to reset his password was incorrect.. He managed to access a link to reset his password but the interface to create a new password wasn’t allowing him to submit his new password. He was able to reset his password only once he accidentally deleted the last character of his new password.

He finally got in through the app, but the urgent care location he tested at wasn’t coming up in his account. He called the support number for assistance. While he was on the phone with customer service, he was emailed a link for his results — and because he had just made a new password, he was able to log in. “I was on the phone with the customer service when I read that I was positive,” he said.

But he’s been thinking. “I am insured, and without mobility or ambulatory issues,” he said. “I am well enough to walk to the place, and also I have tech awareness, so I knew how to navigate these things. But it really gave me a moment I was like, if I wasn’t privileged to be insured and to be skilled and to be abled, if any of those three didn’t check off like I would have experienced any immense hurdle just to just to see that I got Covid, to confirm that I’ve been sick and now need to quarantine — how do you even prepare someone for all of these obstacles?”

In truth, a lot of free testing places have closed, and we are hearing more and more reports of people being charged for tests that they thought would be free. At our van in Queens, testing is offered free, and the numbers are rising. Many people have come and asked first to be sure that this testing is free.

Test me or my mother

My friend told me he saw two women at the same clinic, an elder mother and her middle-aged daughter, who live together. He overheard part of a conversation about testing for the two of them, he said, indicating that the charge for a test might have been an issue.

He heard the daughter say that her mother had been exposed and was not feeling well. Then there was a partial conversation about insurance and payment. He then heard the daughter say, “Well can you at least test my mother?”

He guessed that the charge for testing might have kept the daughter from going ahead. “What an awful situation — we both should be tested, but can you at least test my mother because she’s more vulnerable?”

 

Jeanne Pinder

Jeanne Pinder  is the founder and CEO of ClearHealthCosts. She worked at The New York Times for almost 25 years as a reporter, editor and human resources executive, then volunteered for a buyout and founded...