Coronavirus in N.Y.C.: Why the Wealthy Get Quick Test Results

Many New Yorkers have reported lengthy delays, sometimes spanning more than two weeks, in receiving their virus test results. But for others in New York City, the turnaround can take less than 24 hours.

As large laboratories across the country scramble to meet demand, some wealthier residents are turning to doctors’ offices and smaller labs that have their own testing equipment. Others are paying for memberships at so-called concierge medical practices that charge several thousand dollars a year and can give rapid results.

I asked my colleague J. David Goodman, who has covered New York’s response to the virus, about the topic. Here’s an edited version of our conversation:

[Read more about where some New Yorkers are turning for faster test results.]

Q: Why are some New Yorkers receiving test results in days, while others wait weeks?

A: Some wealthier people are in the concierge medical world, where they pay a lot of money to have 24-hour access to doctors who have fewer patients. Those doctors were turning around and making relationships with smaller labs because they were seeing the large ones get inundated from all over the country, slowing down the times.

Are there alternative ways to conduct or process tests that have led to faster results?

There’s a distinction between antigen tests and what are called PCR tests. The PCR test is the one that most people take. Antigen tests can give you a result in 15 minutes, but there’s a lot of debate around how reliable those results are. Most public health experts will say they’re good for frequent screening, like if you’re in the N.B.A. or going to the White House.

Some people think that testing should be so routine it’s just a part of your daily life and that this rapid testing is part of the future. But at this point, it’s not that widespread.

Why do quick test results matter?

The testing is basically worthless if you don’t get a result within a few days. Part of that is for contact tracing. Someone whose test comes back positive after 10 days may not already be isolating themselves as they would if they got their results earlier, so the number of people who could have come into contact with that person will be higher.

How do delays further the inequalities seen during the pandemic?

They’re another example of how, if you have money, there are ways to circumvent even the most complicated systems and barriers, like a national backlog of coronavirus testing. We saw it in the beginning of the pandemic — when it was hard to get a test, yet rich people were finding a way to get them. And we’ve seen it again here.

What’s being done to speed up turnaround times for all New Yorkers?

The city has been creating what it is calling express testing sites, and people who have gone to them often say they’re quite fast. The trouble is, it’s hard to scale that.


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The Mini Crossword: Here is today’s puzzle.


Officials in Suffolk County apologized for the display of a Confederate flag on the side of a fire truck during a local parade. [Newsday]

A group of residents in Queens hired private security guards to patrol waterfront areas and parks, concerning some elected officials. [amNY]

A couple who own a local chain of yoga studios continues to come under fire for attempting to evict their tenants in Brooklyn. [The Cut]


The Times’s Taylor Lorenz writes:

As the fall semester begins, many college students will be attending classes from their family homes. Others have arrived to live on university campuses, with varying amounts of success; even schools with strict social distancing guidelines are seeing outbreaks of the coronavirus.

But some students are pursuing a third option: Renting giant houses with friends and doing school remotely, together. Call it the rise of the college “collab house.”

Six rising seniors at Columbia University will be living in a house in Portland, Ore. Several students at Yale are renting a property in Durango, Colo. A group of five Princeton students is moving into in a large house in Chapel Hill, N.C.

For many students, the reason for pursuing these off-campus housing alternatives is similar: They’re looking to escape their families and replicate at least part of the college experience. The rentals range in scale from lavish and pricey productions to smart, budget-friendly solutions.

“I am a first-generation, low-income student, and this is my cheapest option,” said Morgan Margulies, a rising junior at Columbia University who will be taking online classes from a house in Santa Cruz, Calif., with nine friends. “For a lot of people at Columbia, money is not an issue. They’re moving into places, and they invited me and told me the rent, but it was not a realistic thing I could do.”

Other students are traveling to the New York area for their remote classes. Annie Rauwerda, a rising junior at the University of Michigan, for example, will be pursuing her studies this fall from Brooklyn.

Some groups of classmates have named their group houses and made them social media official, creating shared accounts where they can post about their lives together. Several have created detailed spreadsheets outlining plans for what happens if residents fall ill. But for many, the extra work is worth the hope these houses provide that the school year won’t be a total disappointment.

“Everyone has been cooped up in their houses,” said Erik Boesen, a rising sophomore at Yale. “We’re all looking to do something that’s a little unique.”

It’s Tuesday — make the best of it.


Dear Diary:

The fire hydrants along Fifth Avenue
speak German, French, Spanish, Mandarin,
and in a pinch, they spray wet English
words into little puddles.
The rain has the same
inclination. It falls from the sky.
Its wet words tell us hello and goodbye.
They’d like to mingle.
They prefer not to encounter umbrellas.
They enjoy reflecting in puddles
the blue sky, seven thousand people
walking by, not caring if the puddle
knows their name
or has any kind thing to say
as rain puddles do most of their talking
when they get stepped on.
They leap up. They crawl
from their shallow places
and speak their minds.
The splash says it all.

— Ernest Slyman


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