De Blasio closed 20 city-run COVID testing facilities before Omicron soar

The lines are long and temperaments short as New Yorkers line up – some for hours – to receive COVID tests like outbreak of infections, fueled by highly contagious variants.

One of the reasons for the wait: the number of fixed locations operated by the city test centers quoted prices fell dramatically in mid-November from 54 at 34, including 31 operational as of Wednesday, an analysis of THE CITY of the City Health + Hospital system The data shows.

8,318 New Yorkers had a positive COVID lab or rapid test as of Wednesday, state health department figures show followed by THE CITY – against 5,084 Tuesday and 3,124 Monday.

That’s a seven-day average rate of 54 per 100,000, up from about 30 per day earlier this month.

On Thursday, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced plans to increase the hours and locations of testing centers, and distribute free masks and COVID home test kits as the Omicron variant spreads.

“This variation is fast,” said de Blasio. “We have to go faster. “

As Omicron moved forward quickly, the lines outside the test centers proved slow.

Among those who were waiting in Brooklyn on Wednesday, a woman said she had been to five different places looking for a quick test – eventually finding one at a city-run pop-up site near Marcy Plaza in Bedford-Stuyvesant.

She waited about two hours for her turn, she said, missing her barista shift.

“It shouldn’t be like this every time you have to take a COVID test, we all wait and get them at the same time,” said the woman, who was being tested for her job, asked that her name not be. not published. . “There just has to be a better infrastructure for people to get tested quickly. “

State health statistics show more than 146,000 tests administered on Wednesday, up from around 106,000 on December 1.

Maximum waiting times displayed for testing at other city-run sites fell from a seven-day average minimum of 7 minutes in mid-November, before the website’s 20 locations were removed, to 30 minutes last week.

Lost Bronx Sites

Even as demand grows with the spread of Omicron and people hoping to spend time with their families for the holidays, reliable testing locations run by hospitals in the city have become scarce.

Among the physical sites that are no longer functioning is a large center on Northern Boulevard in Woodside, Queens, and five community locations in the Bronx.

A popular Health + Hospitals test site on Dyckman St. and Sherman Ave. closed late last summer, leaving Manhattan above 181st Street with limited testing options.

Health + Hospitals increasingly relies on private testing companies that operate mobile locations – brand names that are not always familiar to patients who need to trust their personal information and swab samples will be correct. treated.

THE CITY previously reported surprise invoices received by customers of a private testing service, CareCube, which is not an H + H contractor.

Emily DeMarco, a college teacher in Brooklyn, told THE CITY she had to leave an entire day of school on Monday to queue at a CityMD in downtown Brooklyn. It took her about three hours to get tested, she said.

After another exposure this week, she was back, braving a line of nearly 40 people at a MedRite emergency care center on Court Street while others covered her classroom.

Emily DeMarco, left, and Merida Mehaffey await a COVID test at a MedRite in downtown Brooklyn on December 16, 2021.
Eileen Grench / THE CITY

Standing in front of DeMarco was Merida Mehaffey – who noted that the city test site she attended at a school in Crown Heights had closed. And as her boss understands her weekly tests, she questions those who can’t afford to stand in line.

“I know there are a lot of people out there for whom this is not the case,” Mehaffey said. “And getting tested before you leave work or after you leave work before you come home is really a challenge. “

More centers to come

De Blasio and Test & Trace Commissioner Ted Long announced new efforts to speed up testing on Thursday afternoon, including extending hours at city-run sites to seven days a week.

Long added that the city will open five more physical test sites and said visitors to the city’s test sites will have the option of picking up a free home test kit rather than standing in line.

De Blasio also announced that the city will distribute one million KN95 masks “immediately” through Test & Trace Corps and community partners.

In addition, he promised, 500,000 rapid home tests would be distributed free of charge through community organizations “directly at the base”.

Manhattan Borough President-elect Mark Levine, who chairs the city council’s health committee, urged shipping tests to New Yorkers at homes, citing states as Colorado who did the same.

“It is absolutely urgent that it becomes easier to get tested in New York City,” Levine said.

An example of a home COVID test.

Home COVID test kits.
cat / Shutterstock

Asked last week about the widespread closures of many physical Test & Trace centers operated by the public Health + Hospitals system, Test & Trace spokesperson Adam Shrier highlighted the work of contractors operating mobile sites and school tests. Among them: RRT, DocGo, MedRite, Mt. Sinai Hospital, BioReference Laboratories, Fulgent Genetics and SOMOS Community Care.

“NYC Test & Trace continues to operate the largest testing machine in the country and recently announced the doubling of our mobile test fleet to ensure that practical and barrier-free testing is accessible to all, ”he said in a statement.

“At the height of COVID-19, many partners offered their spaces as test sites. We’re grateful for their generosity, and as in-person services have started to reopen (eg, in libraries), we’ve taken some sites to mobile testing. “

The move to mobile, often temporary, test sites comes as city budget figures show funding for Test & Trace – most of which comes from the federal government – has been cut in half.

In addition to running test centers, Test & Trace caters to people who test positive or are contacts of those who test positive to ensure they self-isolate safely, including in free hotel rooms if you wish.

Figures analyzed by the city’s Independent Budget Office show that Test & Trace budgeted $ 539 million for the current fiscal year that began in July, compared to $ 1.2 billion for the 2020-2021 fiscal year.

Omicron was first detected last month outside the United States and has mutations that make it highly infectious, although it remains to be seen whether it is more or less fatal than previous strains.

As of Wednesday, 956 people were hospitalized in New York City with the virus, according to figures from the state Department of Health. City health statistics show 11 people died from confirmed or suspected COVID infections on any given day during the last seven-day period measured.

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