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.
The mayor reported 5,731 new COVID cases in the city on Sunday — a “shocking figure” that will undoubtedly keep growing, he said.
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.