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Long lines are forming outside New York City's COVID testing sites

A MARTINEZ, HOST:

Long lines have been forming outside of coronavirus testing sites. That's especially true in New York City, where the number of people testing positive has been hitting record highs. NPR's Hansi Lo Wang has been out in the city, talking to some people waiting in the lines. Hansi, I know the Biden administration says they're going to set up federal testing sites in New York. So help is on the way. But what have you been hearing from folks in line this week?

HANSI LO WANG, BYLINE: Well, many people I met said they're trying to get test results as soon as possible because they're preparing to travel in the next few days for Christmas and for New Year's. And, you know, New York City's mayor has said the city is also planning to increase the number of testing sites by the end of this week. But in the meantime, I saw a line longer than a city block up in Harlem. I met Cyn Jordan (ph) of Manhattan. She told me she's been getting tested weekly for months now. And it's usually a relatively quick in-and-out. Let's listen.

CYN JORDAN: Maybe, like, three to five minutes. Yeah. Yeah. Today, it's just crowded. The lines is getting longer again.

WANG: At one point, I counted more than 60 people in line, overheard the wait for a test could be anywhere between two to three hours.

MARTINEZ: Wow. That sounds like the line to go vote.

(LAUGHTER)

MARTINEZ: I mean, are people getting tired of all that waiting?

WANG: I haven't heard that so far. I spoke to a father who was waiting in line, Patrick Frankfort (ph). He was standing with his kid, Grace, who's 7 and was glued to his phone, playing a video game. Someone at Grace's school recently tested positive, so they were in line just to make sure Grace had not been infected. And Patrick told me they may have to get tested again soon before visiting family in North Carolina. And he's learned to be patient with this whole process. Let's listen.

PATRICK FRANKFORT: You know, wearing a mask is second nature now for me and her, right, Grace?

GRACE: I love masks.

FRANKFORT: You like masks, Grace?

GRACE: I love masks.

FRANKFORT: (Laughter).

GRACE: I will never take it off if I can never take it off.

MARTINEZ: (Laughter) OK, so a lot of love for masking up there. The Biden administration says it's going to set up a website for ordering free at-home testing kits to be sent to people's homes next year. Hansi, did any of the people you talked to bring that up?

WANG: You know, some of the people told me they had not heard about this option yet. But the father I spoke with, Patrick Frankfort, told me that, like a lot of people, he's been having a very hard time ordering these rapid tests online, finding them at local pharmacies. And, of course, these at-home tests are not as accurate as a PCR test people are lining up for. But they do give him some peace of mind before meeting up with friends and extended family. But he did say he's worried that using these at-home rapid tests means the results are not automatically shared with public health officials and wouldn't necessarily trigger contact tracing. Let's listen.

FRANKFORT: I'm fairly trusting. But I don't know if people are going to take the precautions, you know? When your back's against the wall and you're living paycheck to paycheck and you're like, I gotta go, it can cause a much bigger problem.

MARTINEZ: There's a lot to keep track of right now during this surge. There have been a lot of event cancellations in New York City. And New Year's Eve is coming up. What's the status of that?

WANG: Well, the plan has been to return to a large, outdoor gathering in Times Square to ring in 2022 next Friday night. And organizers say people 5 and older can watch that lit up New Year's Eve ball slide down that pole in person if they show proof that they've been vaccinated. But Mayor Bill de Blasio did say this week that the city has been looking at this plan again because of this omicron surge. And the mayor says they'll announce any changes before Christmas this Saturday. And, you know, I should note the Fox TV network announced last night it's canceling its live New Year's Eve show from Times Square because of omicron. But the mayor has also been emphasizing that because many people in the city are vaccinated, he feels strongly that this is not the moment for shutdowns.

MARTINEZ: We'll see if Andy Cohen shows up to Times Square.

WANG: (Laughter).

MARTINEZ: That's NPR's Hansi Lo Wang reporting from New York City. Hansi, thanks.

WANG: You're very welcome, A. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.