Dec. 17, 2021 By Michael Dorgan
Residents have been braving the cold weather and forming long lines outside testing centers in Queens—and throughout New York City—over the past few days in order to get a COVID-19 examination.
The line for tests stretched an entire block Friday afternoon outside the CityMD urgent care facility near Queensboro Plaza as demand surges ahead of the holiday season while cases begin to climb.
Residents said they were waiting in line for around two hours outside the 25-18 Queens Plaza South facility urgent care facility — before getting through the doors to fill out a test application form. The line was much longer Friday morning, stretching back around the block.
The majority of people in line said they were getting tested as a precautionary measure before meeting up with loved ones during the holidays. Others feared they may have been struck down with COVID-19.
The long lines also appear to be driven by a shortage of available testing sites.
For instance, the number of city-operated testing centers dropped from 54 last month to 31 operating as of Wednesday, according to an analysis by THE CITY. However, the city did expand its mobile testing fleet last month and announced further capacity increases yesterday.
“The mayor and the doctors were wrong to close some of the sites,” said an elderly woman who was waiting in line outside CityMD. The woman requires a walker to get around.
“They knew the holidays were coming, so how can you want everyone to take the test and at the same time you are closing sites, it doesn’t make sense.”
The number of coronavirus cases in Queens has spiked in recent weeks with the 7-day average in the World’s borough rising from 411 on Nov. 25 to 905 on Dec. 13.
COVID-19 hospitalizations have also increased in Queens with the 7-day average jumping from 14 on Nov. 24 to 22 on Dec. 13. The 7-day average for deaths for the same time period has remained steady at 3.
Health Commissioner Dave Chokshi said at a press briefing Thursday that transmissions across the 5 boroughs are spreading at an “alarming rate” and are being driven by the dominant Delta variant mixed with the fast-spreading Omicron variant which is now responsible for 13 percent of cases.
However, Mayor Bill de Blasio said at the press briefing that Omicron does not appear to be more dangerous than Delta.
Still, fear of the new variant appears to be prompting many people to get tested, adding to the long lines.
“People are definitely more paranoid about Omicron and are coming out to get a test as a precaution,” said Iggy Saldana, 30, a Long Island City resident who was waiting in line outside CityMD.
“But to be waiting in a line for over two hours is ridiculous, especially if you have a job or a family or any other responsibilities.”
Another woman waiting in line said testing centers should provide an option for people to book test appointments ahead of time. She said this would help reduce the long wait times.
Meanwhile, de Blasio said the city is ramping up its testing capacity by creating more mobile as well as brick-and-mortar sites. Hours will also be expanded at existing sites, he said.
Furthermore, the mayor said the city will work with community organizations to distribute 500,000 rapid at-home tests to New Yorkers for free.
“Getting tested is absolutely crucial,” de Blasio said.
“When you get tested, if, God forbid, you have a case of COVID, you quarantine, it helps keep everyone else safe.”