Throngs of patients Wednesday jammed three Long Island urgent care centers that were among the first in the nation to get molecular COVID-19 tests that take 15 minutes or less.
Suffolk County police helped control the crush of patients at the Farmingdale location of AFC Urgent Care, and its West Islip and East Meadow clinics also were swamped, said Dr. Robert Levy, co-owner of the clinics.
"We felts we'd have an increase in volume," Levy said. "We didn't anticipate that what seemed like the whole region would come to us."
Patients outside the Farmingdale clinic said they were bewildered by the confusion and by a line that did not appear to move. One woman, who asked that her name not be used, said she was prepared to wait but left after police asked the crowd to disperse.
Adding to the frenzy were television crews who recorded the intense demands by patients to learn if they have the virus.
Test equipment for the coronavirus have been in short supply on Long Island and elsewhere and those who were tested often have had to wait days for a result.
Louis Dionisio, a co-owner and managing director of the clinics, said that the Farmingdale site was processing more than 100 tests for COVID-19 Wednesday and about 70% had positive results for the virus.
Abbott Laboratories, based in Abbott Park, Illinois, delivered its COVID-19 test kits to the Long Island AFC centers because they have been using the company's toaster-size multi-test analyzers for other diseases, including influenza, Levy said.
Dionisio said on Thursday the urgent care centers would deal with potential crowding by handing tickets to patients who appear in person with the estimated time for their appointments.
Levy said patients came from as far as Queens to be tested. He said none of the Farmingdale patients were referred to the hospital on Wednesday, but that the typical course of the illness means that the conditions of some will decline.
The launch of the rapid molecular tests on Long Island comes as Melville-based Henry Schein Inc. said it is rolling out more COVID-19 antibody blood tests.
A member of the White House COVID-19 Supply Chain Task Force, Henry Schein announced Wednesday it is the exclusive distributor of the 15-minute test made by closely the held Morrisville, North Carolina-based BioMedomics.
The tests, along with an assessment of symptoms, would help medical professionals determine whether patients had recovered from the virus and would be eligible to return to work, according to Henry Schein.
"These tests are important because they are fast and can be deployed where they are needed to help return our citizens to the workforce," Stanley M. Bergman, Henry Schein chief executive, said in a statement.
It remains unclear, however, whether those who recover from COVID-19 gain immunity from reinfection, according to a Monday posting from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The blood tests also are not considered definitive, according to Food and Drug Administration directives, which suggest seeking confirmation with molecular tests like Abbott's that detect genetic material of the virus.
Henry Schein, Long Island's largest public company by revenue, late last month announced a separate deal with SD BioSensor, a South Korean company, to distribute hundreds of thousands of rapid diagnostic blood test for the new coronavirus.
Henry Schein also co-founded the Pandemic Supply Chain Network at the World Economic Forum in 2015.
That advisory group, with about 40 private sector members, seeks to share data and coordinate operations in response to the outbreak.
“We cannot address emerging health care challenges unless we learn the lessons of the past,” said Bergman. “With that in mind, Henry Schein Inc. and other like-minded organizations took action after the Ebola outbreak in 2015.”
With Zachary R. Dowdy
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