New York State Attorney General Letitia James warned the pop-up COVID testing site company LabQ to be more truthful about delays in turnaround times for the results of PCR COVID tests, amid a surge in New Yorkers seeking diagnoses that’s swamped local laboratories.
She also urged New Yorkers to report examples of price gouging to her office if they were charged exorbitant sums for at-home Covid-19 test kits — currently in short supply across the five boroughs.
“With the Omicron wave hitting in the middle of the holiday season, New Yorkers need timely COVID-19 test results more than ever to make decisions about whether they can safely travel or gather with loved ones,” James said in a statement issued Tuesday. "And fraudsters are on notice that if they attempt to price gouge during this new surge, we will not hesitate to take action.”
In a separate release, James said her office had found examples of home tests worth between $14 and $25 going for up to $70 per package. State law bars sellers from raising prices excessively on items that are essential to a person's health, her office said. Merchants who don't comply with a cease and desist letter from James' office could face lawsuits.
On the issue of testing wait times, through Monday, LabQ was claiming its results would be back in 48 hours — but by Tuesday morning, the company's site and the automated message on its phone line had been updated to warn people to wait between 48 and 96 hours.
“The warning from the AG has been a shock to us,” said Joseph Spiegel, LabQ’s director of business development, in an interview.
He said the company's laboratories got backed up when tests peaked at 72,000 samples a day, in a combination of samples from their own pop-up sites as well as from companies that contract with LabQ. After receiving the AG’s letter Monday night, the company updated its website, and took other measures to reduce the backlog, Spiegel said. Most people should expect results between 48 to 72 hours, he added, though a return to the normal 48-hour processing time isn’t expected until after the holidays.
“We know that our patients have come to expect a quality of service and a [quick] turnaround time and we’re working tirelessly to get back to that,” Spiegel said.
Gothamist/WNYC reported Tuesday that private laboratories processing COVID-19 samples were backed up as New Yorkers flocked to sites across the city. CityMD, which runs urgent care facilities throughout New York, warned clients its PCR test results could take up to five days. People who were tested at LabQ pop-up sites, which are sprinkled all across the five boroughs, said they were waiting that amount of time just to hear when they would get results. City officials said PCR results from its testing sites should still come back within 36 hours.
On Dec. 15, more than 129,000 people were tested for COVID across the five boroughs; a higher number than on any single day throughout the entire pandemic, according to city testing data. That same day, more than 13,000 new COVID infections were detected, a dramatic spike from early December when fewer than 1,000 new cases were reported in a single day. Hospitalizations and deaths from COVID still remain low, despite the surge in cases.
Park Slope resident Sam Mazany, 29, waited for four days for his LabQ test results, looking to assure himself he wouldn’t unknowingly spread COVID-19 at his family gathering.
“You’d just think we’d have a more robust system for testing that could handle stuff like this after two years of this pandemic,” he said. “I definitely don’t want to be the one who brought COVID to Christmas.”
This story has been updated with additional comment from LabQ. People can report instances of price gouging to the Attorney General by filing a complaint online or calling 800-771-7755.