Long Islanders again waited on long lines for COVID tests Monday, as Gov. Kathy Hochul said millions of tests are coming to New York and urged people to be smart on New Year's Eve. Newsday's Cecilia Dowd reports. Credit: Howard Schnapp

About 3 million free COVID-19 test kits will be distributed in New York by the end of the week, officials said Monday, as people snapped up appointments for new testing sites on Long Island and the number of cases remained high.

Demand for testing has boomed as New Yorkers, concerned about the surge in COVID-19 cases due to the highly contagious omicron variant, have been waiting for hours outside urgent care centers and other test sites.

A glitch in a new online portal created to let New Yorkers sign up at 13 new COVID-19 testing sites set to open Wednesday allowed people to make appointments for Monday and Tuesday, even though the locations were empty.

What to know

About 3 million free COVID-19 tests will be distributed in New York by the end of the week, officials said Monday.

A glitch in a new online portal created to let New Yorkers sign up at 13 new COVID-19 testing sites set to open Wednesday allowed people to make appointments for Monday and Tuesday, even though the locations were empty.

Northwell Health announced Monday it is opening two drive-thru testing sites on Tuesday on Long Island.

The portal, a joint effort of the state and New Jersey-based BioReference Laboratories, launched early Monday morning and included two Long Island sites: IBEW Local 25 in Hauppauge and Kennedy Memorial Park in Hempstead.

In a statement to Newsday, BioReference acknowledged the error and said it will provide testing to those who signed up for the nonexistent slots on Monday and Tuesday.

"In response to the patient demand for COVID-19 testing, BioReference is offering Scarlet Health, an on-location service that comes to patients’ homes and/or workplace to collect COVID-19 specimens, for those who scheduled appointments today and tomorrow," said Hillary Titus, vice president of external communications at BioReference Laboratories. "Appointments for COVID-19 testing at the defined New York sites will open as scheduled for Wednesday, December 29."

Hours for the testing site at IBEW, when fully operational, will be Monday through Saturday from 8 a.m. until 6 p.m. Testing will be available at Kennedy Memorial Park from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m., Monday through Friday, and on Saturday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Northwell Health announced Monday it is opening two drive-thru testing sites on Tuesday on Long Island, one across from Peconic Medical Center in Riverhead and another at Christopher Morley Park in Roslyn. Appointments are required and can be made online at northwell.edu/coronavirus-covid-19/pcr-testing.

"Knowledge is power, and our ability to identify these patients is really what will allow us to stem the tidal wave that has been omicron in the past several weeks both for children and adults," said Dr. Matthew Harris, a pediatric emergency medicine physician at Northwell Health.

Harris also said he is concerned about a growing number of people seeking COVID-19 tests at emergency rooms even though they are not ill.

"If you are concerned for your child or for yourself, you should seek medical care," Harris said. "But if you're looking for testing because of an exposure and your child is well, I think going to these rapid test centers provides a wonderful opportunity to get tested, to stay in a safe environment and to allow the resources of the emergency department to concentrate on those who need it most."

Last week, Gov. Kathy Hochul and her administration said they would continue to expand testing sites and provide at-home COVID-19 test kits, each containing two tests, for New Yorkers. At least 10 million at-home COVID-19 test kits will be coming to the state through January, they said, and there are plans to mail New Yorkers free at-home PCR tests that can be requested online.

Many of the at-home tests will be distributed to school districts, officials said.

"We have a strong public interest in keeping our kids in school," Hochul said Monday morning during a news conference in Albany.

Hochul and acting New York State Health Commissioner Dr. Mary T. Bassett also reiterated concerns about the growing number of hospitalized COVID-19 cases in children.

Bassett said there were 70 pediatric hospital admissions across the state between Dec. 5 and Dec. 11, increasing to 104 the following week. The figures have not yet been tallied for the week beginning Dec. 19, but that number jumped to at least 184 admissions, she said. The trajectory has been most steep in New York City, which accounts for 109 of the cases. Many of the young patients were not fully vaccinated against COVID-19, Bassett said.

"People continue to think children don't become infected with COVID," Bassett said. "This is not true. Children become infected, and some will be hospitalized."

She said vaccination rates among children in the state are still too low, noting that only 16.4% of children between the ages of 5 and 11 are fully vaccinated and 66% of kids between the ages of 12 and 17 are fully vaccinated.

Harris said he has seen first-hand growth in COVID-19 hospitalizations at Northwell's Cohen Children's Medical Center.

"We have several children, a few in the ICU, who are very sick with COVID," he said. "Those have been, for the most part, kids with underlying immunosuppressive diseases and overwhelmingly those who are unvaccinated."

Many of the kids admitted with a COVID diagnosis are under the age of 5 and not eligible for the vaccine, Harris said.

"They're admitted because they're dehydrated, they're a little bit short of breath," he said. "The primary COVID infection may be the trigger, but what's keeping them in the hospital is dehydration, poor eating, lethargy, respiratory distress."

He said these hospitalizations are happening at the same time that flu and other seasonal viruses are taking hold.

"The burden of COVID in the inpatient space has really blossomed in the past 96 hours," he said. "And I think we're all cautiously watching what happens the next few days."

The number of COVID-19 tests administered in recent days dipped because of the Christmas holiday. According to figures released by the state, there were 26,737 new positive cases of COVID-19 across New York out of 166,681 test results on Sunday, for a daily positivity rate of 16.04%. Of those cases, 2,530 were in Nassau County and 2,098 were in Suffolk County.

Long Island continued to lead the state on Sunday in the seven-day average for positivity in testing, with 15.42%. The statewide rate was 12.41%.

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