Gov. Kathy Hochul is opening a COVID-19 testing site at Stony Brook University amid the huge demand for testing, but it will not be the same mass site that operated at the university when the pandemic first broke out.
Instead, this site will have a capacity of 275 tests a day. When the initial testing operation opened at Stony Brook in March 2020, it had the capacity for up to 1,000 tests daily.
Medical experts said that for a variety of reasons, it is difficult for many people to land appointments for COVID-19 tests on Long Island amid the record-breaking omicron surge, but added that the state, along with health care systems and local governments, is making efforts to improve the situation.
"It’s definitely, definitely difficult for patients, for families to get enough tests for themselves and their children," said Dr. Sharon Nachman, chief of pediatric infectious diseases at Stony Brook Medicine. "But I think the state is working hard to get more tests available, shipping them more to pharmacies and opening up test centers."
What to know
The state-run testing site opening at Stony Brook University on Tuesday will have a maximum capacity of 275 tests per day. When the initial testing operation opened there in March 2020, it had the capacity for up to 1,000 tests daily.
Experts said people are having a hard time getting appointments at Long Island testing sites, partly because of slowdowns in the supply chain and partly because of staffing shortages.
Long Island's seven-day positivity rate continued to grow in results from Tuesday, reaching 26.36%.
Sixteen people died in Suffolk County on Tuesday of causes linked to the virus, and three in Nassau. The statewide death toll was 96.
The Stony Brook site is one of 20 locations the state said it is opening at SUNY campuses throughout New York. The local site will be at 1500 Development Dr. near where the state currently runs a mass vaccination site. It will function between 8:30 a.m. and 4 p.m. There's an online portal for making appointments.
Hochul's office, in a news release, said the new site will open Friday, which Newsday initially reported, but Stony Brook officials later said that is incorrect and the opening day is Tuesday. State officials later confirmed Tuesday is correct.
It will have a capacity of 225 appointments a day and up to 50 walk-ins, Hochul’s office said.
SUNY sites opening next week also include one at Farmingdale State College, Hochul said.
Experts: Several factors behind scarcity
Medical experts said people are having a hard time getting appointments partly because of slowdowns in the supply chain and partly because of staffing shortages — as many health care workers themselves are getting sick with COVID-19 or having to quarantine because of contact with an infected person.
"It takes a lot of staff" to run testing centers and also regular operations, said Dr. John D’Angelo, chief of Integrated Operations at Northwell Health. "I think the labs have enough capacity" to process tests but "the access points are somewhat limited because everybody is very resource-constrained right now."
But "everybody is doing what they can to meet the demand," he added.
Nachman said the testing shortfall is also happening because many people "let their guard down" after COVID-19 indicators dropped during the fall following the summer delta surge.
Omicron, she said, "is teaching us a lesson."
Dr. Dave Chokshi, New York City’s health commissioner, said that based on how the omicron variant has leveled off, like in South Africa, together with testing results in New York City, he hopes "that we will see a peak before too long, meaning in the next few weeks, and I hope, within the next two to three weeks."
Amid the surge, some officials have called for the state to reopen the mass testing operations at Stony Brook and Jones Beach. "I think it would be great," Nachman said. "I think that other states are doing that, and it may help."
But she added that multiple smaller sites also are good, spread out in many communities, making "it easier for families to go and get tested."
"We continue to do everything possible to expand testing," she said in an email.
Those efforts in Nassau and Suffolk include the sites in Hauppauge and Hempstead, Fuld said, as well as hundreds of thousands of at-home test kits given to families of students.
"With 10 sites opening by the end of this week and additional sites by the end of the next, we are quickly ramping up our ability to focus our resources where they are needed," Hochul said in a statement on Tuesday evening as she announced the Stony Brook site.
Fuld contended that the Hempstead and Hauppauge sites are making a dent in the problem.
In late December and early January, Hempstead averaged 574 daily tests, compared with 494 a year ago on the same days at Jones Beach, she said.
Hauppauge averaged 444 daily tests on the same recent days, meaning the sites combined did more than 1,000 tests a day, she said.
The two sites, though, appear to be inundated. As of Wednesday afternoon, they had no appointments available until next Wednesday, according to the state website where people must register for an appointment. That is the longest wait of any of the dozen state-run sites listed around New York.
The seven-day rate has since skyrocketed far beyond that, reaching 26.36% in the latest results, while both Long Island and New York State have on several days shattered records for daily new cases of COVID-19 amid the omicron-fueled surge.
Continued efforts to ramp up testing
Demand for testing remains high across Long Island. Many people continue to line up for hours starting in the predawn darkness in frigid cold to get tested at locations such as CityMD.
At the CityMD in Sayville on Tuesday, about 25 people were already lined up by 6:45 a.m. waiting for the doors to open at 8 a.m.
People brought beach chairs to sit in during the wait.
When the doors finally opened, in what is standard protocol, people checked in with their mobile phone numbers and received a text later in the day to come back for the actual test.
Long lines of cars snaked around Nassau Coliseum last weekend and waited for hours as Nassau officials handed out home test kits.
At Heckscher State Park, where Suffolk County is running a testing site Mondays through Thursdays with a capacity of 1,000 tests a day, workers said Tuesday was a good day — lines were relatively short. Other days they have to turn people away.
The county is also running a site at Cathedral Pines County Park in Middle Island on Tuesdays and Fridays with a capacity of 500 tests a day. Another one in Hampton Bays with the same capacity is open Mondays for school-required and community testing.
Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone on Thursday is expected to announce new efforts to distribute at-home test kits.
With Matthew Chayes and Lisa L. Colangelo
Sign up to get text alerts about COVID-19 and other topics at newsday.com/text.