The Omicron variant of the coronavirus has pulled New Yorkers from restaurants and bars and back into their homes.
More than a week ago, on a Saturday night on Austin Street in Forest Hills, Queens, one could find a line of people waiting outside of a CityMD which was right next to a mobile testing spot (which also had a line). Directly across the street, restaurants like Mojo and Martha’s Country Bakery (and OBA right behind them) were packed with customers on the inside––and on the outside––sitting in enclosed spaces to protect themselves from the public.
In recent days you could find more people at CityMD; but the lines for CityMD are closed now too.
The U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website states that the Omicron variant of the coronavirus is a more transmissible version of the coronavirus, but there’s not much information about if it causes a more severe illness or more death than other versions of the virus. Booster vaccinations are necessary but the medical community isn’t sure how much it protects individuals from contracting the virus. The CDC also doesn’t know how to treat it properly.
But what about the other infection that usually comes around this time of year? America’s officially in flu season leading to thoughts of a possible twindemic (dual threat) wreaking havoc on the country.
A twindemic could come from a combination of people going to the hospital for COVID, those going to the hospital for the flu, and tired/overwhelmed doctors and nurses. Therefore, in October, the CDC referenced the flu and COVID-19 pandemics and pushed for Americans to get vaccinated for both.
The CDC said that it’s possible to get both shots at the same time. CDC Director Dr. Rachel Walensky understood the frustration of Americans being subjected to needles upon needles, but said that it was necessary to fight off two infections.
Walensky told the Associated Press “I get it: We are all tired of talking about vaccines.”
But what about those on the frontlines? In May, When asked by “Good Morning, America’s” T.J. Holmes asked what people should do to honor nurses on what was then National Nurses Day. Grant said the same thing: get the shots.
“I think the best thing that the whole country can do is to make sure that everyone gets vaccinated,” Grant said. “You know, the sooner we get enough people vaccinated, the sooner we can return to normal, whatever that’s going to look like post-COVID, but I think that’s the greatest gift that people could give nurses on National Nurses Day is to make the commitment to go out and get vaccinated and if they are vaccinated, then get others in the community vaccinated as well.”
It provides yet another reason for people to wear masks and socially distance themselves from others.
According to the CDC, New York State’s 7-day metrics show communication transmission is high (coded in red on its website). Those metrics showed 59,263 cases at an almost 10% positivity rate and 316 deaths. During the same period, there was a 7-day moving average of 456 new hospitalizations.
More than 75.5% of the state’s population above the age of five is fully vaccinated.
When it comes to case rate per 100,000, as of Dec. 21, Queens County stood at 526.08 and New York County clocked in at 1,023.09 (84% of Manhattanites above the age of five are fully vaccinated). Kings County (Brooklyn) stands at 648.27 and Bronx County stands at 427.02. Staten Island (aka Richmond County) had a 715.33 case rate per 100,000.
Drug pharmacies have worked to keep up with customer requests for at-home tests. Zoe Krey, manager, retail & merchandising communications for Walgreens, told the AmNews that due to the demand for at-home rapid testing, they’ve put a four-item purchase limit on at-home COVID-19 testing products in stores and online. They’re hoping to improve their inventory in the process.
“We’ve seen an unprecedented increase in demand for rapid OTC COVID-19 tests and are working with our suppliers to ensure customers have access to self-test kits through the holidays,” Krey told the AmNews. “Some stores may experience a temporary shortage in rapid OTC testing solutions. For consumers looking for specific items, Walgreens.com updates with the latest available store inventory information frequently throughout the day.”
A spokesperson for CVS told the AmNews that they’re committed to providing families with protection and peace of mind during the holiday season.
“We continue to work around the clock to provide our stores with inventory of the five over-the-counter at-home COVID-19 tests we offer: Abbott BinaxNOW, Acon FlowFlex, Quidel Quickvue, Ellume, and Pixel by LabCorp.,” said a CVS spokesperson. “In the event a store experiences a temporary shortage, our teams have a process in place to rapidly replenish supply. Due to a recent surge in demand, and to retain community-based access to tests in our stores, there may be temporary out-of-stocks for these products on CVS.com.”
Other businesses, however, struggled to keep their promise of a 48-hour wait for results.
LabQ, a medical diagnostic company, pushes the story that they can get COVID test results back to patients within 48-hours. That hasn’t been the case. One person who used their service told the AmNews that she’s still waiting for her results, and it’s been over 96 hours.
“We should’ve been told that it was going to take like 4-6 (days) to get our results,” the patient, who wanted us to refer to her by her initials, A.U., told the AmNews. “I could’ve gone somewhere else. Mine still says ‘pending.’”
The inability to meet their deadline brought the ire of New York State Attorney General Letitia James down on LabQ: she took to social media to give her opinion on LabQ’s situation.
“We’re demanding Brooklyn-based @LabQ247 stop giving false information about turnaround times on #COVID19 results,” said James. “@LabQ247 has dozens of testing sites across New York City, and despite advertising a 48-hour turnaround time, some New Yorkers have waited 96 hours for results.”
“It’s absurd that anyone should have to wait that long for a test result,” tweeted James.
The AmNews wasn’t able to contact LabQ Brooklyn Laboratory officials, but this message plays when anyone calls their business: “Please be aware due to the increased volume of testing this holiday season, we are experiencing longer than normal processing times,” the message stated. “Please allow 48 to 96 hours for our lab to process your results. Thank you for understanding as we are currently unable to expedite samples, we are working diligently to return to our quick turnaround policy. If you have been waiting for longer than 48 hours for the results, please reach out to us online at firstname.lastname@example.org.”
Another person told the AmNews that they took their test on an early Thursday afternoon and didn’t get their results until late Monday morning. She did say, however, that they were good communicators by texting her on where to go online to get her results.
On Tuesday CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky approved of people being tested, but also promoted people taking the booster shot. She told CNBC that vaccination and booster shots are the best prevention against death. According to the CDC, vaccinated people infected with the coronavirus are 20 times more likely to survive than an unvaccinated person.
The U.S. government is looking to speed along the process. U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration plans on making 500 million at-home tests available for free to the American public. They will distribute them through the mail while simultaneously opening new testing sites around the country––including one in New York.
A.U. told the AmNews a story about the day she took her test. Once she was done, she and her partner went to a bodega nearby. They were masked up and safe. The bodega’s cashier, however, was mask-less, gloveless and picking his nose.
“This is absurd.”
At press time, A.U. was still waiting for her test results.
Just over a week ago Manhattan’s East Village and Lower East Side felt like old times. People were outside smoking cigarettes, bars were open, restaurants were open, SantaCon was wreaking havoc around the city. But for now, places like the East Village will remain a ghost town.