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Omicron: Testing My Patience

December 27, 2021 am31 12:11 am

I made it through last week. I thought.

Friday morning, trying to start to breathe, I opened an email from a colleague…”I am so so sorry…” They had tested positive on a rapid Friday morning.

My school was pretty good this fall – few cases – at least as far as I knew. We were careful, most of the kids, almost all of the adults. The teacher who sent the email had been especially cautious. And I was up there. But with omicron the usual precautions may not have been enough. If a kid was a little sloppy, if a few kids were, this omicron might have started moving from kid to kid, kid to teacher.

So when I got the email I wasn’t so worried about having caught omicron from the teacher – we had been in the teacher’s room together, but not so close. I was concerned that omicron had been circulating in the school, and that I could have picked it up from anyone – student or teacher – I encountered.

I had a negative PCR on Monday (I was one of the lucky staff members, the 10%), and I did not socialize last week. So I put my risky days between Monday and Thursday. Instead of waiting 4 days, like with all the other COVIDs, omicron is detectable a bit more quickly. Which made Sunday, today, the perfect day for a PCR. Somewhere between 3 and 6 days from possible exposure.

After I got the email I went online, and found that the closest public hospital, North Central Bronx, had plenty of appointments on Sunday. I picked 9AM.

NO means “NOrth bronx” – like an old-fashioned telephone exchange.

And then I waited. Stayed home Friday. Missed a gathering Saturday – but I was not the only no-show – it’s omicron time, and we all understand.

Sunday, today, came. North Central is a walk from my house. I cut it a bit close. I was a block from home when I realized I had put on my mask, but forgotten my glasses. Oh well. At 20/25 I can survive, though I wouldn’t want to teach that way. I walked the best route, cutting through two chunks of park, zigging through the warren of little streets.

As I came up Kossuth I saw the line of test-takers stretched to the corner (which had been bad news last Friday). But when I got to 210, I saw the line turned the corner and went 50 feet up the block and slightly uphill. Now, I had an appointment, but I knew better. I just jumped on the end of the line. I looked at my phone. 9:00, to the minute.

We slowly shuffled forward, and a few came on line behind me. I counted sidewalk blocks – 13 in front of me, 2 behind. I slid forward, and caught a warm sunbeam. It felt good. Progress was slow. 20 minutes passed, and we had hardly moved.

Then all of a sudden the line broke and moved and reformed all the way at the corner. Staff were offering free rapid take-home tests to anyone who would leave and go home. Progress! But the corner had no sunbeams. And a wind picked up, and gusted. It was cold. Really cold. 20 people or so to the front steps. We moved about halfway. Still the cold, and no sun.

We moved again. Officers were counting 10 people inside. My group would be next. A family – or two friends with their kids – in any case a group of 5 – were in front of me. Then me. Two guys who seem to have met in line. A woman in an 1199 knit cap. And an older couple. It was 10:10. I’d been 70 minutes in line.

Based on the previous motion I estimated 10 – 20 minutes to get inside. It was still cold, but the porch we were on had partial walls, so there was some protection from the wind. I did some toe raises. One of the women in front of me was in a little dance. It felt necessary to try to keep warm. Time passed. It was more than 20 minutes. Every once in a while they brought out rapid tests and sent more people home.

We peeked in the glass doors. Those inside were in line – and had not moved forward. It was more than a half hour. We started chatting, frustrated. People showed up with appointments – they got sent to the back of the line. Appointments were not being honored. A staffer came out to move some people out of the vestibule. I asked if something was wrong. As she answered, we got motioned inside. It was 11:30. I had been waiting outside for two and a half hours.

We stood in the inside line, going nowhere. It was a bit surreal. At least it was warm. They asked us to take out IDs, and then didn’t ask for them. They asked who had been to this hospital before. Half of our hands went up. And nothing. A woman argued about needing a test because her previous test was mislabeled.

Finally, after about 20 minutes, they took IDs. I took a seat, and took out my phone to read email, play with twitter, play mindless games. Stuff my fingers would not let me do when we were out in the cold. I heard them announce they were cutting off the line. Wow. The site was scheduled to stay open until 2PM. But it was just after noon. The woman with the mislabeled test from last week resumed her argument.

At 12:15 my name was called. I was directed to a line in the middle of the room that went nowhere. But it felt like my status had risen. The guy called after me, one of the two men from outside, his name was Jonathan, too. We chatted.

I could see both sitting areas now, and the front desk, and the door. Where they had been tough about controlling entry, now there were people pushing through the vestibule into the lobby. It’s hard to keep people in the cold that long. When we’d entered the lobby it was pretty quiet. But now there were babies screaming. Someone was playing some inspirational music – just briefly – but quite annoying. I heard discussions about flights. Apparently, if you could prove you were flying in the next __ hours (did they say 36? 24? I wasn’t fully listening) you could get some sort of priority status or priority test. Words between the two staff members and the people who wanted to get tested seemed to be getting a bit tense. An explosion would not have been completely unexpected.

The pieces were in place. I am surprised there was not a blow up when they cut off the line. But while I was standing with Jonathan they announced to people who could not get a PCR – but who could take home a rapid test – that the rapid tests had run out. That did it. A woman would not accept this, and demanded the name of the staffer, and asked for a supervisor. No supervisor came. The woman refused to leave without the name. People took out cells and started filming. No one in the conversation had the ability or the interest to deescalate. Officers arrived (hospital, not precinct). I’m not sure how, but this defused.

The staffers, and officer, and someone else in hospital uniform discussed clearing the lobby. And then two men came in. They made the same appointment as me – but for 1PM. The hospital was not going to honor their appointment. They were loud, and fairly angry. Again this could have been the spark, but was not. And then a woman walked in with a 1PM. That did not look as confrontational. My name was called.

I went to the hallway past registration, and before the testing area. Each time a person went for testing, the rest of us moved down one chair. Jonathan was right after me. He had been hanging out with some friends, who then tested positive, and he wasn’t feeling so great. It was 1:15.

Fifteen more minutes, and then I got called into the testing room. A nurse took my information. She was distracted and slow. She took my info once before, in September – but how many tens of thousands of tests ago was that? She walked away, with me sitting there. Then I heard “Sir, sir” and she was calling me. She sent me to another curtain where a nurse swabbed me and sent me on my way. I got to the lobby, but the door was blocked with sawhorses. They sent me out through the ER. I got to the ER, and asked the officer where the exit was. Right in front of me. I was disoriented. But I pushed the door open, walked through the automatic door into the garage, and stepped towards the sunlight. I reached the sidewalk. It was 1:45.

That was wrong. Very wrong.

For one, I should not have spent four hours and forty-five minutes getting a PCR.

I had a 9AM appointment. Why was Health and Hospitals making appointments, but not keeping them? I think that goes to allowing de Blasio to say to the public and the press “appointments are available.” He should get credit for the act, if it happens, not the words, which are empty, or worse, lies.

I know staff is short, but they clearly needed more.

And I know that staff is short, but uniformed hospital employees are important. At least one of the staffers was working under a contract – does not inspire confidence.

No one knew what traffic flow was supposed to look like in the lobby. They made it up, I think, as they went along. Which gave the impression, at times, that nothing was happening.

This was a Sunday, and a bad shift (super busy day after Christmas). But that demands a strong on-site supervisor. It took a few minutes for me to find two bottle-necks – registration of new patients needed an extra person – and the nurse doing intake (right before the test) needed to be freed of other tasks. The nurses doing the tests seemed to have significant down-time.

But even if the site could have been more efficient, there were too many people seeking tests.

Health and Hospitals knew the staffing levels. The people at the top. de Blasio’s people. They knew how many appointments had been made. They had numbers from the previous days. They knew they were going to have more people seeking tests at Bronx North Central than the site would be able to accommodate. And they did nothing. On Christmas Day Bill de Blasio knew there would be a problem today, and he did nothing.

This is malignant indifference on the part of Bill de Blasio.

There should have been more staff. But if there was not more staff, there should have been a plan.

Find a way to accommodate people with appointments – or alert them in advance.

Let people know when they got in line that capacity had been reached. That’s horrible, right? But it was far worse what happened – turning away people who had been waiting in line in the cold.

Have enough rapid tests on hand. Replenish them when they run low. Look, running out of tests a week ago, when omicron was first hitting New York City hard, understandable. But when you know what the demand will be?

Finally, I heard that a public hospital in Queens was fine today. Thank you, Mayor de Blasio, for reminding us that you think the Bronx is special.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Kathy Perez permalink
    December 30, 2021 pm31 2:02 pm 2:02 pm

    And let’s think – if this is the process to get tested after exposure, how many parents will go through four hours standing outside in the cold with a sick child or a child who has been exposed? Zero to none. I’m a parent of three, and there is no way I would do that with any of my kids (who are 20, 18, and 15), NOW, let alone when they were elementary age. Parents will lie, parents will have someone else take the test to ensure a negative, or they won’t test at all and send the child anyway.

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