Private laboratories are struggling to keep up with the surge in demand for COVID-19 testing, with some reporting wait-times as long as five days before tests can be returned.

But testing sites run by the city, which rely on an in-house laboratory, were still reporting wait times less than their typical 36 hours, even as New Yorkers flood the facilities ahead of the holidays.

City data through December 15, showed a steady increase in the numbers of New York City residents seeking COVID-19 tests — more than 100,000 people per day, marking the highest number of any point in the pandemic. The rush precedes a busy two weeks for travel ahead of Christmas and New Years, as more new COVID-19 infections were detected in a single day than at any point so far in the pandemic.

“It’s been very hectic around here. All the labs are backed up. I have patients waiting for results, angry,” said Rosarta Kalbaj, the manager of a pop-up Rapid Test NYC testing site on Houston Street on the Lower East Side.

She said test results for PCR tests are now taking as long as three days. Before the recent surge they’d promise results within a day. Kalbaj said she was used to testing about 200 people a day. Now she’s averaging 500.

“It’s just how the city is right now,” she told Gothamist.

Officials attribute the surge in part to the highly contagious omicron variant, which data indicates now may account for more than 90 percent of new COVID-19 infections. Public health officials were cautiously optimistic, however, that despite the spike in cases, the number of new hospitalizations and deaths remained low.

Matt Gove, a spokesperson for CityMD, warned it could take more than five days for PCR test results to come back due to backups at laboratories they use, though they still offer rapid tests that typically yield results within 15 minutes. Gove said the company's 150 clinics across the city have seen a 25 percent increase in patients in the past three weeks.

LABQ, which runs pop-up COVID testing sites across the five boroughs, warned people to wait up to 48 hours before even contacting them with questions about test results. Though some New Yorkers said they’d waited far longer than that.

Sam Mazany, 29, was scrambling to get a COVID test result back before Christmas where he hoped to visit a family member with an underlying condition, after attending a crowded indoor concert last week. He’d gotten a test at a LABQ site in downtown Brooklyn on Dec. 16 and was still awaiting the result four days later. He planned to go get another test Monday afternoon, to “throw another one on the pile.”

“[I’m] still being hopeful about going back to visit for the holidays, but it seems like the window is getting smaller,” he said.

Lower East Side resident Michelle Kuppersmith got a COVID test at a local pharmacy on Saturday, after her husband tested positive for COVID-19. She was promised results in less than 24 hours, but two days later she was still waiting. She scheduled a second test at a private clinic that offered expedited results for a $25 fee. Even so, they warned her not to expect results for another 36 hours.

“I’m just trying to be responsible about going back out in the world,” she said. “[That’s] difficult when you don’t get your test results back.”

Dr. Denis Nash, a professor of Epidemiology at City University of New York, said the recent crunch at sites all across the city could indicate it’s time to pivot away from a community testing model altogether.

Essential workers, school children and employees should get priority at those testing sites, he said, while local, city and federal governments should ensure better access to at-home test kits for routine testing among the general public. Those kits have been hard to come by in the five boroughs in recent days and online, they’re backordered for weeks.

“Unfettered, unbridled access to testing for any reason, that’s the world I want but that’s not the world we’re in,” Nash said.

He added that he was concerned that overcrowded testing sites could even possibly be contributing to the spread of the virus with positivity rates as high as they are currently.

“It’s not a risk free endeavor,” Nash said. “I’m not gonna do that with my kid right now unless I absolutely have to — especially if they’re not vaccinated.”

New York City officials said turnaround times for PCR tests at the network of public hospitals and other city-run testing sites were still under 36 hours. During a press conference Monday, Dr. Ted Long, who runs the city’sTest & Trace Corps, said the public hospital system's laboratory capacity is still able to churn through the recent flood of COVID-19 tests.

“The fastest turnaround times in New York City are at our public sites,” Long said. “Come see us.”

Still, city-run sites, like many pop-up ones, had hours-long waits to get the tests. For days on end, New Yorkers had been dutifully queuing up in lines that snaked around city blocks at testing sites across the city.

“It’s freezing here. This three-hour line is not working right now. Don’t come to Gouverneur Hospital,” warned Chinatown resident Fong Seto, who was waiting for a test Monday morning outside the facility. "I hate the line. My foot is frozen. I don’t understand why it’s gotta be like this.”