Covid testing is tightening even further in New York City, perhaps as a sign of what’s next in the pandemic, judging from our experiences at the testing van we support in an undervaccinated neighborhood in Queens.
City data shows that the rate of hospitalizations and deaths related to Covid is not extremely high and appears to be stable, making the picture look not particularly alarming – though a lot of home testing is taking place, obscuring the magnitude of the infection rate. Demand for home tests and free PCR or rapid tests at the van we support has grown in the last few weeks, suggesting that a surge may be starting.
The not-so-alarming city data, plus pandemic fatigue and news developments like President Biden’s recent declaration that the pandemic is “over,” have combined to make policies like masking and testing and vaccination seem less urgent, judging from anecdotal evidence and experiences at our van, where city-sponsored workers perform PCR anad rapid tests, and where we distribute free at-home tests. But Covid transmission is rising in the northeastern United States, experts agree, and that makes this a good time to have robust, free, easily accessible testing – not testing that is limited, expensive and hard to get.
Our work in Queens Village, a part of Queens that borders on Long Island and occupies zip code 11429, is part of a grant called the Vaccine Equity Partner Engagement, with the Fund for Public Health of New York City, using Centers for Disease Control money, in partnership with the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene of New York City. We established a relationship with New York Health + Hospitals, the public hospital group in the city, which scheduled a mobile van to come to the neighborhood to deliver vaccines and testing in September 2021. The van has come almost every Wednesday and Sunday to the a spot on the street near Ss. Joachim & Anne Church and Wayanda Park, 217-72 Hollis Ave., Queens Village, NY 11429. We here at ClearHealthCosts are working with two New York-based news organizations, Epicenter-NYC, a Queens hyperlocal, and TBN24, serving the Bangladeshi emigre community.
We’ve noticed in the last few weeks that more and more people are coming by to get tested and asking if we can guarantee that they won’t get charged. And we have heard more and more anecdotes from people who are getting charged at places other than our van, or whose test results at those places are delayed, or who simply want to use at-home tests to avoid charges and delays.
The testing was once paid for by federal money, but that money dried up with Congress’s inability to approve more funding for Covid-related expenses. The result was fewer places to get tested free – and more reports of people getting charged for tests. With that, we have heard people saying that those charges made it less likely for them to get tested.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, the availability and cost of Covid testing has loosened and tightened, depending on demand and money available.
New demand for home testing
The surge in demand for the at-home tests we are distributing is new. The tests are part of a supply given to the VEPE partners to distribute.
Two or three weeks ago, people were generally comfortable in turning down our offer of free in-home tests, our staff at the van reports. Now, people are saying that they want all we can give.
Families are coming to our team on the ground and saying they are running out of tests because they tested after one member’s exposure. “We tested for a whole week and we have no tests any more,” one person told us. “Can we have more tests?”
A local pediatrician told our staff members this week that there is a significant surge among children, “especially those not vaccinated, who are showing up in hospitals and clinics” in New York City.
In the summer, we wrote about how a friend found it difficult to get tested for Covid at several New York city lab locations. It seems that was only the beginning.
Delays in test results
Labs and other testing sites are consistently apparently short-staffed, we are hearing, meaning that results take longer, sometimes several days. Many test sites are no longer processing tests on site, but instead sending to another location, meaning mounting delays, people have reported to us.
The delays in testing results can have real consequences — someone lacking test results might believe that they don’t have Covid, for example.
Our van at the Queens Village site, run by the New York Health + Hospitals public hospital group’s Test + Treat corps, does the testing at the van – with rapid results delivered on the spot with a 15- to 20-minute wait. People who test positive are given treatment if they qualify under the guidelines.
PCR results can take from 48 to 72 hours to reach a person.
Recently, one woman who tested positive at the van was not given a Paxlovid prescription – and was told she did not meet the guidelines for Paxlovid.
Her first symptoms appeared on a Wednesday. She tested on Thursday – not at our van, but at a different location – and got results on Saturday (a negative test).
She tested again on Sunday at our van, because she still had symptoms. She tested positive then, getting her results immediately. But the van staff said she was too far out from experiencing her first symptoms for Paxlovid to be effective, so they didn’t prescribe it for her.
Testing locations in New York City
Here are some resources to help you find a location near you, from the New York City health department’s testing page:
- COVID-19 Citywide Information Portal: Testing Locations: Map of all testing locations, including some that may not be free.
- COVID-19: Express Testing: A link where you can schedule an appointment at the Health Department’s free Express testing locations, which usually return test results within a few hours.
- NYC Health + Hospitals Testing Sites: These locations offer free testing, including some sites that will test children 2 years old and younger.
- Test to Treat location finder by Zip code