Blog by Sumana Harihareswara, Changeset founder

25 Aug 2021, 10:46 a.m.

COVID-19: The Delta Variant, Better Masks, and Free Testing

I am concerned about COVID-19 trends; particularly if you are in the United States, you should be aware and make/modify plans accordingly. Some of this post is New York City-specific.

Background: The COVID case numbers in the US -- including in New York City -- are going up pretty steeply because of the Delta variant.

It looks like the Delta mutation has really changed the game -- not only with breakthrough cases of COVID affecting people who have been vaccinated, but causing severe illness among some vaccinated people, and causing significant illness in children. And it's now clear that not only are vaccinated people catching Delta, we can easily pass it on to other people.

This third big wave of COVID transmission is hitting the rest of the US worse than it's hitting the Northeast, but NYC's getting hit, too.

We can see Delta's effect in the coronavirus stats in New York City. The daily case rate per 100,000 people has gone up from under 5 in June to 23 now, and test positivity rate has gone up from under 0.5% in June to 2.7% in early August (more details here). Relatedly, about 94% of tested cases in NYC are Delta infections; if you catch COVID in New York City right now, overwhelmingly, you're likely to catch Delta. This isn't just NYC, of course; similarly, in Washington, DC, the daily case rate (per 100,000 people) has gone up from like 1 in June to 23 now, and test positivity rate has gone up from 1% in June to nearly 6%.

As schools and many workplaces move back to in-person interaction, and as the weather gets colder and people socialize indoors instead of outdoors, we should expect further transmission.

A commentator I follow recently advised everyone that "now is probably better than later in the year, for anything entailing risk of exposure, so react accordingly."

Two more things you should know about: better masks and free COVID testing.

Masks: In mid-2020 it was hard to buy N95-quality masks. Now it's easier. here's a blog post about where you can buy reliable-quality masks online, including proper N95s and P100s. At least as of a few weeks ago, they are available for sale online at not-onerous prices. I bought a P100 for use in particularly crowded and unventilated settings.

Free testing for COVID-19: You can get free high-quality molecular (PCR) testing in New York City through the city government-run hospitals and related testing sites. PCR tests are accepted by airlines, employers, etc. that want to see your negative results. Again, it's 100% free: "Walk-in testing is available at no cost to you at these NYC Health + Hospitals locations." And you can just walk in during their open hours. You do not have to make an appointment or "pre-register" - but you can do that online to save time filling out a bit of paperwork.

It is 100% free to everyone including the uninsured. They ask that, if you have an insurance card, please provide the card when you go to get the test. But you don't have to pay a co-pay or anything like that, and if you don't have an insurance card, then the city covers the cost. You do not pay anything.

About 90% of the time, you'll get the result within 2 days. In case that's not fast enough, check out these Express sites where you are guaranteed a result within 24 hours of your visit. These are, again, molecular (PCR) tests, and are appointment-only. Scroll down to "Schedule Your Appointment" within to make an appointment.

Wishing all of you as much health as possible.