Finding a convenient COVID-19 testing site may depend on where you live

Local News

HARLEM, Manhattan — Frequent testing for COVID-19 is an important part of battling the pandemic, health experts have maintained. But that can be easier said than done depending on where you live.

In Harlem, a banner in front of one of the city’s health clinics said COVID-19 testing and vaccinations were only available on Saturdays for the time being. Naturally, it caught potential patients off guard.

“I was surprised that I didn’t see anything out here,” said a woman who’d given only her first name, Yvette. She’d shown up at the Gotham Health Sydenham clinic around mid-day Monday, with her two grandsons in tow, seeking COVID testing.

However, said the grandmother who’s lived in the neighborhood for years, “It’s abandoned now, so I don’t know.”

She said that the clinic is usually a hub of activity; it was not on Monday, and hasn’t been for a few weeks now. 

As a result, there was no testing for her grandchildren.  

It was the same story for another local resident, Cat Grant, who also walked up with her son, Markis Lennon, a second grader.

“We need more testing sites in the community, for easy accessibility,” Grant said, upon learning that the walk-in clinic had suspended testing, with no real notice to residents. 

PIX11 News brought the issue up in Mayor Bill de Blasio’s daily briefing. He and his top medical leaders said that this clinic’s lack of testing is due to the city having to spread out its resources. 

It’s run by the city’s Health and Hospitals Corporation, whose CEO, Dr. Mitchell Katz, discussed the clinic’s status.

“The Sydenham clinic [in Harlem] will be back on a daily basis tomorrow,” said Katz.  He explained that the city government had determined that the clinic’s staff members were needed to ramp up the city’s vaccination efforts on DOE campuses. 

“We’re using those resources in order to take care of the vaccination efforts at our schools, as well as the testing efforts at our schools,” Katz said.  

Ironically, the people PIX11 News encountered at the clinic who were seeking COVID testing were all doing it with the same purpose in mind.

“[I’ve] come to find out about getting my grandkids tested,” Yvette explained, “because they’re going to a new school.”

On Monday, though, they were out of luck at Sydenham clinic.

At the temporarily scaled-back clinic, a search of “Covid testing sites near me” on Google Maps showed results in a handful of other locations, one of which is a block away from the Sydenham site.

However, upon arrival, it’s clear that the other location is a residential building with decidedly no testing site on the premises.  

An inquiry to Google about the search resulted in a response from the tech giant: “You can report an error on the map by following the steps in this article.”

The city, meanwhile, says that at its own testing site locator, resources include a map showing testing centers in close proximity of any address in the five boroughs.  

An inquiry to the website from the Sydenham location showed the closest testing site to be inside a high-rise office building at 215 West 125th Street. There is a site inside the building.

However, there are also two pop-up testing sites and one private testing clinic within a block of the office building, and none of them were shown on the city government’s map.

The city’s Test and Trace Corps executive director, Dr. Ted Long, said at the mayor’s briefing that, starting this week, the city is doubling the number of its mobile testing units. Also at the briefing, Health Commissioner Dr. Dave Chokshi said that by texting “covid test” to 85548, anyone can get a list of COVID testing sites near them.  

The mayor made clear that there’s a separation between testing sites that the city operates or endorses, and ones that are operated by private entities that bill free tests to insurance companies.

“There are privately-operated sites that are not under the city’s direction,” de Blasio said. “And, of course, that’s just value-add, we welcome that. But they tend to group where, you know, their strategies dictate.”

Finding them is catch as catch can. There were three within a block of one another on Fifth Avenue near 42nd Street in Midtown. None of them was shown on the city’s COVID testing map. Many patients spotted there are tourists. 

Meanwhile, back in the neighborhoods, where New Yorkers live, finding a place to get tested remains a challenge.   

Cat Grant said that after showing up at the Sydenham clinic, and being told there was no testing there, someone gave her a casual referral. 

“He told me about another location on 125th St. and 8th [Avenue],” she said, “so we’re going to try that.”
She later contacted PIX11 News with an update.  

“We got the Covid test on 125th Street,” she wrote in a text. “Results come back in two days.”  

She’d said that, for school registration purposes, she’d needed the results in one day.  

It was a reminder that even when the challenges of finding a testing site are overcome, additional challenges remain, including speed and efficiency.

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