As Covid-19 testing citywide has been stretched thin, federal, city and state officials have pushed for additional tests and testing sites. While some neighborhoods — having received more testing sites over the last few weeks — have shifted the focus to rapid tests, which remain in short supply nationwide and are costly, others, like College Point and Whitestone, are still waiting for more sites.
As of Jan. 3, there were only three testing sites in the area, leaving civics and their fellow residents frustrated.
According to Al Centola, president and founding member of We Love Whitestone Civic Association, not only are there only three testing sites available in the area, but one of them, Harpell Chemists, requires patients to pay $100 out of pocket. President of A Better College Point Civic Association Jennifer Shannon later said that the sole location in College Point, ProHealth Urgent Care, also requires a $100 fee.
“We’ve been ignored yet again,” Centola said. “We were ignored when they were opening up vaccination sites; they didn’t open one up in our area. And then finally they did. The first time around they did the testing, they opened up in every other neighborhood but [not] our area. And now again.”
On top of that, both Centola and Shannon expressed concerns that the shortage might put stress on other nearby testing sites; Shannon said she had to go to LaGuardia Airport. “It puts an undue burden on the other sites, because now people from outside of the neighborhood are going to get tested there,” Centola said.
Several federal and state officials, such as Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-Bronx, Queens) and state Sen. John Liu (D-Bayside), have lobbied the city to put up more testing locations.
“We are aware of this shortage and it’s totally unacceptable,” Ocasio-Cortez spokesperson Lauren Hitt said in an email to the Chronicle. “We’re working with constituents on a one-on-one basis to try to get them to the closest testing site and we’re also in contact with our federal, state and local partners to address both the larger supply issues as well as the placement of testing sites.” On Jan. 5, the congresswoman also sent a letter to President Biden, urging him to send additional testing units and kits to the area.
Liu, too, is frustrated, and called on the city to act. “The lack of testing sites in northeast Queens underscores how woefully unprepared New York City was for the rapid surge of Omicron. This isn’t our first rodeo,” he said in a prepared statement. “At this stage of the pandemic, there is really no excuse for Queens residents to wait hours in line for a test and sometimes days for their results. The city needs to act immediately to provide more locations where New Yorkers can gain faster access to testing, vaccines and boosters.”
The frustration, then, is not with the state or federal government, but with the city.
“I think the city is not being equitable,” Shannon said. “I just feel the local politicians ... they’re not paying attention to it unless people are complaining.”
Newly-elected Councilwoman Vickie Paladino (R-Whitestone) told the Chronicle that she has been working with City Hall this week to bring more sites to the area, and is “connected to the right people” to do so. She said that two new sites are in the works: one mobile site in College Point, and one at her own district office. “We’re on a list, sadly. But I’m not discouraged at all, because the outcry from myself and my district, you know, people have a voice and they need to use it,” Paladino said.
Though initially, she had told the Chronicle that both would open by Jan. 10, spokesperson Thomas Paladino later said that day was no longer confirmed, but “it would happen by next week for sure.”
Asked later about the aforementioned new sites, Shannon said she was on board.
“We would definitely be very appreciative if she could make that happen,” she said.
Centola was also excited by the news, but had reservations.
“We need to now take this [momentum] and work towards a more permanent site, at least until we’re over this Covid hump,” he said. “What do we do in a week when these places are done? We wait for another surge to complain again? Or are they looking towards getting us something more on a permanent basis?”