LabQ testing draws praise for wait time, scrutiny for turnaround

A woman gets COVID tested at a LabQ van in Flatbush during the Omicron wave in December 2021.
Photo by Ben Brachfeld

The ubiquitous COVID-19 testing group LabQ has drawn praise from test-takers for its lightning-fast intake as other sites see crushingly-long lines, but is now drawing scrutiny from the state Attorney General over supposedly false advertising in its claims about wait times for results.

LabQ has 20 sites across the borough situated in tents and vans on the side of the road, plus a brick-and-mortar clinic in Borough Park and a lab in Industry City. It’s one of many mobile testing sites, both public and private, that popped up as the city began placing less emphasis on large, expensive testing sites and more on small sites that could be placed anywhere.

The effects of that shift in priorities has been palpable as the city gets walloped by the Omicron variant, whose extremely high transmissibility has translated to more recorded COVID cases than at any point in the pandemic. The city’s positivity rate was 9.17 percent on Sunday, the most recent date where data was available. That day, over 15,000 New Yorkers tested positive for COVID-19, a record in the pandemic-era, surpassing records that had been set on each day since Dec. 15. The number fell to 13,760 positives on Monday, which is still the second-highest number since the pandemic began.

The spike, and its proximity to the holidays, has meant a crushing load on the city’s testing sites, where some people can expect to wait more than two hours to get a swab. More than 280,000 people got a COVID test in Brooklyn in the seven-day period between Dec. 12-18; another 100,000 showed up at testing sites on the 19th and 20th.

When Brooklyn Paper asked the denizens of Twitter where, if at all, they had gotten a quick COVID test in these troubling times, the most popular answer was LabQ sites.

“I’ve almost exclusively used them for testing since August,” said Joe Wasserman, 28, of Greenpoint, in a direct message to Brooklyn Paper. “And they have yet to give bad service or take longer than advertised for results.”

A Brooklyn Paper reporter visited the LabQ site outside the Parkside Avenue Q train stop Tuesday afternoon, and was swabbed and sent on his way within 15 minutes of arriving. Test-seekers arriving at the site scan a QR code, which brings up a prompt to sign in. When finished signing in, the seeker brings a new QR code to the main table to get a testing label, then gets in line.

After getting swabbed, Brooklyn Paper was told to expect results back in 48-to-72 hours.

The posted wait time for results is what prompted a letter to the group by the state Attorney General, claiming that the testing organization was falsely advertising a maximum wait time of 48 hours when in reality, many didn’t get results for up to four days.

Two lines for the LabQ testing site at Parkside and Ocean avenues on Dec. 21.Photo by Ben Brachfeld

“Misleading statements about when individuals can expect COVID-19 test results is especially concerning during the holiday season, since many individuals are relying on these test results to make decisions about whether they can travel or attend family gatherings,” said Mary Alestra, special counsel to the AG’s Bureau of Consumer Frauds and Protection, in the Monday letter.

“As your website notes, ‘Turnaround Time Matters,'” the letter continues.

LabQ’s website gives the time window for results at one to five days; a spokesperson for the AG’s office said that the wait time posted online had been one to two days until the company received the letter. The letter instructs LabQ to email all patients awaiting test results informing them of the longer wait times than promised, and to have on-site staff provide the accurate timing information.

LabQ founder Moshe Landau did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

The front of a massive line for COVID testing at Kings County Hospital on Dec. 20.Photo by Ben Brachfeld

To address the surge in testing demand, Mayor Bill de Blasio has said that an additional 23 city-run testing sites will be open by the end of this week, bringing the total number to 112 including brick-and-mortar and mobile sites. Gov. Kathy Hochul, meanwhile, said that the state will open new mass testing sites, including one in New York City before Christmas.

The powers-that-be are also starting to distribute at-home tests.

Hizzoner said last week that the city would distribute half a million at-home tests, which typically sell for about $10-15 a pop but are being priced gouged by retailers. Gov. Kathy Hochul on Monday said the state would distribute 10 million at-home tests, including 5 million before the new year.

The Biden administration, after initially ridiculing the notion, announced Tuesday that it would distribute 500 million tests to people all over the country who want one starting next month.