The lines that in recent weeks have stretched for hours at urgent care locations around New York City are not going away anytime soon, Summit CityMD CEO Dr. Jeffrey Le Benger told CNBC on Friday.
Of the roughly 34,000 patients that Summit CityMD sees everyday in New York and New Jersey, about 70% are Covid related, Le Benger said. And much of that is people seeking to get tested for Covid-19.
“These lines are going to continue until a vaccine comes out and until the nice weather comes about,” Le Benger said on “Squawk on the Street.” “We are being inundated, and we are trying to take care of all of these patients who come and see us. We have, yes, lines around the block.”
Demand for testing has surged in recent weeks as people seek to get tested for Covid-19 before traveling to see family for the holidays and as the virus spreads more rapidly across the country. The spike in demand is yet again straining the country’s ability to conduct molecular PCR testing, the so-called gold standard of diagnostic tests.
Summit CityMD, which was formed last year after a merger of Summit Medical Group and CityMD, operates about 200 urgent care clinics across New York and New Jersey. The company said it has hired over 1,000 new team members during the pandemic to cope with increased demand for its services.
“We have to accommodate all these patients with keeping sanity and health to our first-line providers,” Le Benger said. Asked whether the demand for testing will remain high in the New York area after Thanksgiving, he responded, “Absolutely.”
“I think we are just headed into, unfortunately, a very tough time with the pandemic,” he said. “And I think this is going to continue until the summertime, unfortunately.”
The company is conducting more than 15,000 Covid tests every day, Le Benger said. But it’s not enough to meet demand.
“For months, our urgent care sites have been extraordinarily busy, seeing millions of patients for typical urgent care needs plus increasing numbers of people seeking medical evaluation and a COVID-19 test,” CityMD said in a message to patients earlier this month. “As you may have noticed, long lines are a daily fact at nearly every CityMD as we see a sharp rise in COVID-19 cases across the region.”
Summit CityMD offers three kinds of Covid-19 tests: A rapid antigen test, an antibody test and a molecular PCR test. Rapid antigen tests detect a current Covid-19 infection and are most appropriately used to test symptomatic people. But antigen tests’ accuracy can vary, especially in some settings and among people without symptoms.
Antibody tests detect prior infection. PCR tests detect viral material in a person and are the most consistently accurate kind of test on the market but are more exposed to a supply chain that’s now leading to delays in turnaround times.
Le Benger said Summit CityMD is working on new software so that patients don’t need to wait in line outdoors to get their Covid test. But he urged people to wear a mask, practice social distancing and follow public health guidance to reduce the demand for Summit CityMD’s services.