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Déjà Vu All Over Again

Updated: Jan 7, 2022

By Naomi Serviss / New York City

The powerful Omicron variant
The powerful Omicron variant

As a sudden spike in Covid-19 cases sweeps through the city, a familiar anxiety blankets Gotham.

Didn’t we see this movie last year? When the Delta variant threat roiled and testing sites were swamped with wound-up citizens?

Omicron is wreaking havoc at the worst possible time of the year. Those planning to travel

over the holidays want and need assurance they are not infected before they hug loved ones at gatherings.

Over the past two weeks, reports of new cases of Covid have soared 342 percent. The relatively lower hospitalization rate is at 55 percent as a result of vaccinations, a hint of a silver lining.

Even before the New Year’s ball drops, Times Square had been mobbed with would-be test takers
Even before the New Year’s ball had dropped,, Times Square was mobbed with would-be test takers

Now that we’re all trying to figure out how to pronounce “Omicron” (there is no agreed-upon pronunciation, so you’re on your own), let’s be good sports about it. If you’re in line for a test, commiserate with the human behind you about how awful everything is again.

A smattering of good news: the city has opened 119 testing sites across the five boroughs,and added a number of new distribution sites for at-home tests.

The Omicron variant appears to be much more transmissible than earlier versions of Covid. It also seems to evade some vaccine protection. As Omicron spreads and families are planning to celebrate together over the holidays, more people are buying at-home tests. Or at least trying to purchase them.

They’ve been sold out in stores and pharmacies more often than not.

Frustration abounds. Charles, a Manhattanite who lives in Chelsea, wanted to make sure this week his sore throat wasn’t Covid.

When he went to midtown, the line was out the door. Ultimately, he found an Upper West Side unit that had just a few minutes wait for a PCR test, the most accurate available.

The downside: his results weren’t in for 53 hours. Still, Charles is on the fence about home testing, reasoning the PCR tests (the gold standard) on-site are better. “I’d rather get it done at facility. There are so many of them in city.”

NYC neighborhoods like the busy Upper West Side were crisscrossed with long lines of test seekers
NYC neighborhoods like the busy Upper West Side were crisscrossed with long lines of test seekers

Michael, another Manhattan resident in Hamilton Heights, waited in line an hour and a half for his test, then waited a stress-filled three and a half days for the results. “I called customer service but there were literally 278 people ahead of me. I waited an hour, then hung up.” Nonetheless, Michael also decided against using a home test. “I just took a deep breath and waited it out.”

Others have not been as reluctant. The rapid home tests have been selling out like

Charmin in 2020. Mega-pharmacy chains such as Walgreens and CVS say they are struggling to keep up with the “unprecedented” demand. Walgreens has imposed a four-item limit on these elusive stocking stuffers.

Those preparing for family holidays near and far are also taking extra precaution by wearing masks indoors again, and breaking out the hand sanitizer.

We all want to gather with family and friends this holiday season.

On second thought, not all.

For a first-hand account of the author's own experience with a home test this week, please read My DIY Covid Home Test


Naomi Serviss is a New York-based award-winning journalist whose work has been published in The New York Times, Newsday, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Highroads (AAA magazine), in-flight publications, spa and travel magazines and websites, including



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