NEW YORK — New Yorkers continue to face long lines and wait times for COVID-19 testing amid an alarming spike in cases across the five boroughs just days before Christmas.
Videos of long lines in Manhattan, some spanning several city blocks, were shared on social media over the weekend. Meanwhile, a woman posted footage of a long line outside of a testing center in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn, describing a seven-hour wait.
“I [joined] the line at 9:45 (a.m.). It’s just after 12 (p.m.) and I finally made it to the end of the block to wrap the corner. Baby this is hell, change my mind,” Twitter user @kaycee_345 wrote. “Hour [seven]. Finally inside the testing center. There’s [three] more people still in front of me but at least we are out of the cold and I finally have some feeling in my hands and fingers again.”
Long lines at testing sites around the city were also reported on Saturday and late last week.
City leaders are now scrambling to redouble efforts to staff testing sites as they balance the need for staff at vaccination centers.
During a rare Sunday news conference, Mayor Bill de Blasio promised more testing sites would open this week and called on President Joe Biden to invoke the Defense Production Act to manufacture more at-home rapid COVID test kits.
“It’s an urgent situation that requires us to act urgently,” de Blasio said.
On Monday, de Blasio said there were 89 city-run sites currently open and another 23 — three mobile units and 20 brick-and-mortar centers — would come online this week, for a total of 112 testing locations citywide.
Test and Trace Corps. Executive Director Dr. Ted Long told the PIX11 Morning News at least eight of the new city-run testing sites would open in the next 24 hours.
He also said the city would offer at-home tests to people who can’t wait in line at a city-run site when the wait is 30 minutes or longer. Another 500,000 at-home tests were being distributed to community organizations to reach people in areas of the city where testing sites are not as prevalent.
Long lines for COVID testing were also reported at New York City’s two major airports as holiday travel nears its peak.
At LaGuardia Airport on Monday, Twitter user Andrew Gross said some-200 people were waiting in line at a mobile testing site inside Terminal B’s parking garage less than two hours after it had opened.
“The COVID testing situation at LGA is atrocious,” he said along with a video showing a long line of people. “People are showing up for flights not realizing they need to spend [two to three] hours waiting in 20-degree temperatures because we only have [four] people working.”
Gross said the line got so long that it had to be moved so people weren’t standing in the path of cars exiting the parking garage.
On Sunday, staff at John F. Kennedy International Airport warned of COVID test wait times in excess of four hours and urged travelers to get tested before they arrive at the airport if they need proof of a negative result to fly to their destination.
The mayor on Sunday reported 5,731 new COVID cases in the city — a “shocking figure” that will undoubtedly keep growing, he said. An additional 6,989 new cases were reported on Monday.
Spurred by the presence of the highly transmissible omicron variant during the peak of the holiday season, when many people gather with friends and family, De Blasio said city health officials expect an even larger wave of new cases in the coming weeks.
“This is going to be a tough and challenging few weeks,” he said.
But the mayor and Health Commissioner Dr. Dave Chokshi also pressed that there are tools to combat this latest surge that New Yorker did not have last year.
“We can weather that storm if more and more people get vaccinated, more and more people go get those boosters,” de Blasio said. “This temporary reality demands an urgent immediate step, which is to maximize vaccination.”
Despite the record number of new cases, New York City hospitals have not seen a repeat of the surges that swamped emergency rooms early in the pandemic. New hospitalizations and deaths so far are averaging well below their spring 2020 peak and even compared to where they were this time last year.
The stark contrast could be attributed to several factors, including New York City’s vaccination rates and early research that suggest while omicron more easily evades vaccine protection, it also appears to cause more mild symptoms.