Blog by Sumana Harihareswara, Changeset founder

27 Sep 2021, 11:17 a.m.

NYCH&H COVID testing -- great, so let's increase access


[Below - slightly edited - is a letter I just wrote my city councilmember.]

I'm a constituent in your district and I'm writing to thank the City for its free COVID-19 testing program, and to ask for some improvements (more hours and more locations, especially for the COVID Express service).

I had a great experience with NYC Health & Hospitals COVID testing recently. Last week, I learned that I'd been exposed to a COVID-positive person at an event I'd recently attended. I needed to get a test to find out whether I'd been infected. As a western Queens resident, I was able to quickly get a same-day appointment at the COVID Express location on Junction Boulevard. I went there, got a PCR test, and was in and out within 5-10 minutes -- and I got a negative result within 3 hours, which was fantastic for my peace of mind. A few days later, at the end of the likely incubation window for this exposure, I went to Elmhurst Hospital's walk-in COVID test clinic, got a PCR test, and was, again, in and out within 10 minutes. I got my negative test within less than a day.

I am deeply grateful for how the city's health systems made it easy for me to deal with this exposure. The fast, free, convenient testing made it easy for me to keep the rest of my community safe, and then -- once I knew I was not infected -- to feel safe eating brunch outdoors with friends and joining an outdoor religious service. This year I've gotten several free COVID tests through New York City Health & Hospitals testing locations, and I've always had good experiences -- short lines, locations walking distance from my home, friendly workers, and fast results via MyChart and prompt email notifications. Kudos!

But my friends in other neighborhoods have a hard time accessing these testing services. COVID Express appointments are scarce and get grabbed quickly. They're only available on weekdays, not weekends, which is hard for working people. And a friend in [Brooklyn neighborhood] is not within walking distance of any NYC Health & Hospitals testing location, regular or express. She had to take transit to go get tested, which risked transmission to the other people in that vehicle.

Why not get tested at a private pharmacy or urgent care instead? Waiting times for private COVID testing can be slow. I've always gotten my NYC H&H results within about 36 hours. But my friend in [Brooklyn neighborhood] told me that the CityMD near her takes 3-5 days to return PCR test results. And the queues at private COVID test sites can be discouraging, too. Another friend of mine in the Upper West Side had to delay getting tested because of lines at his local urgent care center.

A delayed test, or delayed results, can make the difference between being able to attend an event in person or not, which affects revenue for restaurants, tourism, theater, etc. .... and of course just general quality of life for New Yorkers.

So I'm writing to thank the New York City government for the excellent experience I've had getting tested for COVID through New York City Health & Hospitals, and to ask for more of my fellow New Yorkers to be able to access that experience. In particular, more COVID Express appointments (especially on weekends) and more COVID Express locations around the city would make it easier for working people to get PCR tests, get peace of mind, and keep each other safe.

Thanks and best wishes,
Sumana Harihareswara