With Thanksgiving days away and New York City battling a second wave of COVID-19, New Yorkers are once again facing hours-long waiting times for coronavirus tests. Public health experts, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, have repeatedly cautioned individuals about the risks of leaving town and meeting with family members.
“The safest thing to do is not to travel,” Dr. Dave Chokshi, the city’s public health commissioner said on Monday.
But many are blatantly ignoring the advice. Over the weekend, more than 3 million travelers passed through U.S. airport checkpoints, the busiest weekend since the pandemic began in March. In New York City, a recent Friday saw roughly 75,000 people get tested, an all-time high.
All of which suggests that, COVID be damned, Americans are not prepared to give up on the holidays.
To help readers navigate testing, Gothamist recently published an extensive guide on coronavirus testing. Here is a (shorter) refresher on what you need to know.
A negative test does NOT guarantee you won’t infect others.
Testing negative for the virus should not be taken as a license to not wear masks and ignore social distancing rules. There are two reasons for this—low levels of the virus may not register on a test, and the test itself may be faulty.
With that said, testing is a way to reduce risk as people prepare to gather around the Thanksgiving dinner table. So those planning to see friends and family (despite pleading from public health experts to stay home!) should definitely consider getting a test. In New York, two coronavirus tests or a two-week quarantine is required for those planning to travel outside the state. Research suggests the optimal strategy is to avoid contact with other people for a week or more before taking a test.
Even after testing negative, people should still weigh other precautions, like holding the gathering outside and keeping it short.
Where is best place to go for a fast and free test in NYC?
New York City has nine rapid test clinics across Manhattan, the Bronx, Brooklyn and Queens, and these should be your first choice for testing. Known as “COVID Express Quickie” labs, these clinics offer PCR tests, known as the gold standard of coronavirus diagnostic tests, which are processed on-site. Results can often be received within a few hours. Testing is also performed by appointment only, which minimizes wait times and ensures social distancing.
The bad news that the appointments, which you can make by clicking here, go fast. As of Monday morning, there did not appear to be any slots available. But those who have used the service recommend checking frequently as well as in the wee hours of the morning.
I’ve experienced long wait times for #COVID19 test results (I mean we all have) so let me deliver some good news: I got a test at 10am this morning at 100th Street on #UWS and got results less than 3 hours later. 👏🏼🥳 pic.twitter.com/HYyHjPTEUg
— Kate Hinds (@katehinds) August 24, 2020
What are the other alternatives?
City health officials are strongly urging New Yorkers to visit one of the more than 70 testing sites run by Health + Hospitals, the city’s public hospital system. But even at these testing sites, there have been reports of long wait times, so be prepared to wait.
“Oh my God this is crazy,” said Enn Singh, a 50-year-old Manhattan resident who stood on line Monday morning at Bellevue Hospital.
Singh, who said she was planning to fly to Guyana to visit family, had been waiting since 7:30 a.m. At one point, there were as many as 200 people stretched down First Avenue. “There’s other places,” she said, before adding, “I guess it’s the same thing,”
Health officials have expressed confidence in the city’s ability to handle the increased demand. On Monday, Dr. Chokshi announced a rollout of more mobile testing units as well as brick and mortar sites. There are also plans to expand testing at major travel hubs like Penn Station, and La Guardia and John F. Kennedy airports.
“On the whole, city sites do have capacity for this major upsurge in demand that we’re seeing,” Chokshi said.
At some city testing sites, he said individuals are now being provided with self-collection test kits in which they can simply drop off their sample.
One important note, however: All of the city-run sites will be closed on Thanksgiving Day.
How about CityMD?
CityMD, which has 76 urgent care centers across the five boroughs and offers free testing to uninsured New Yorkers, has witnessed some of the longest lines, leading to horror stories of people spending four or more hours to get tested.
On Friday, a spokesman for CityMD told Gothamist that testing demand at their clinics “has never been higher.”
Also keep in mind that CityMD does not have its own labs. The company sends testing specimens to a national private lab for processing, which adds to turnaround time.
What about antigen or rapid tests?
Most antigen tests are recommended for use only within the first seven days of coronavirus symptoms. In other words, they are ideally meant to be used on people who are feeling sick. But the tests can still be useful. They can show results incredibly fast, often within minutes. New York City health officials have deployed antigen tests strategically in hotspots as well as to test large numbers of people quickly. In many cases, they are simultaneously collecting samples from individuals for a PCR test to ensure accuracy.
But those without symptoms should first seek out a PCR test.
How long is it taking for New York City residents to get their results?
Mayor Bill de Blasio’s office on Friday said that 80% of people being tested across the city are getting their results in 48 hours.
Gwynne Hogan contributed reporting.