When Ellie Frymire was exposed to COVID-19 in mid-December, she knew she wanted to get tested at a city-run site rather than overbooked emergency care near her Park Slope apartment.
But the map on the city’s COVID-19 testing website did not include the New York City Test & Trace vans and tents that dot the city. These appeared in long lists at the bottom of the page separated by borough, without a map to help users find the location closest to them.
Frymire, a software developer specializing in data visualization, instinctively saw a design problem she could easily solve. After a few hours of work, she had gathered all of the city-run test sites on the website and mapped them out herself. The resulting website, testingsites.nyc, has racked up thousands of views since it launched in mid-December, Frymire said.
“I wanted to create a map [of places] where people could go to get tested for free, rather than finding a private place where they could potentially have to pay, âshe added.
The New York City map is frustrating for those who are used to finding the exact location of every restaurant, drugstore, or tattoo parlor in their area with ease. While local authorities have doubled the city’s testing capacity to more than 200 sites in response to the omicron surge, more than half are mobile units and they are not included in the map that the page’s headlines. host “test places” in the city, raising questions about its effectiveness.
Instead, the city map directs users to emergency care, private clinics, and pharmacies. Some of these locations have closed due to understaffing; others may charge patients hundreds of dollars for a test depending on their insurance.
The map includes physical urban test locations, such as those hosted on NYC Health + Hospitals campuses. While mobile test sites aren’t exactly kept secret, they’re less easy to find – tucked away at the bottom of the page below the map, listed on the NYC Health + Hospitals website, and shared in PDF on Twitter.
For people like Christine Callahan, a Greenpoint resident who is regularly tested for her work in the construction administration, the map may be the first and only centralized resource they see when searching. Callahan looked at the map in mid-December and found two testing sites near his office, a CVS and a Quest Diagnostics. During her lunch break, she visited CVS, only to be told that they had not offered a test for months; she switched to Quest but said she was told she should make an appointment in advance.
âI don’t have the capacity or the working flexibility to have an extended lunch,â she said. “It was a frustrating day.”
In the end, Callahan said, she had no choice but to pay $ 35 for a pack of two rapid tests at a nearby pharmacy.
âThe cost of doing it in this case was better than having a docked paycheck,â she added.
The map used by the city is created by Castlight, a San Francisco-based health data company. State and city health departments across the country have added the company’s map, which covers the entire United States, to their websites. Since the first months of the pandemic, it has racked up 5 million unique visits nationwide, according to the Castlight website. The company also helped found the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s VaccineFinder.
Lauren Timen, a spokesperson for Castlight, said the city-run test sites on the map came directly from a file shared with the company by New York City Health and Hospitals (H + H).
âBecause mobile sites change often and are only open for shorter periods of time, NYC chooses to list them at the bottom of the page,â she added, which was confirmed by NYC Test & Trace Corps, a joint initiative of the city’s health service and H + H. Its spokesperson, Adam Shrier, said Test & Trace is able to make updates or fixes to the map if needed, and the map includes 40 city-run non-mobile test sites.
“Our number one priority remains to provide New Yorkers with fast, accessible, and free testing resources to make testing in every community as convenient as possible,” Shrier wrote in an email to WNYC / Gothamist, noting that the city âârecently renewed its contract with Castlight.
According to an FAQ posted on the company’s website, the map is updated twice a week by state-level teams who call clinics and check online test directories. Castlight also provided a Google Form where users could submit fixes and new test sites, but it is no longer open for submissions.
The city’s COVID-19 information portal website is warning users that the card includes private testing sites and some may charge for a test. It also requires users to call ahead before visiting any of the test sites listed on the map.
Frymire said its card requires daily updates – a more frequent rate than the Castlight card’s bi-weekly schedule. And WNYC / Gothamist has found at least three other maps designed by individual New Yorkers to document city-run test sites missing from the city-shared data visualization.
Callahan, who has struggled to find a city-run site, said she hopes the city will create its own map, which will include its many mobile test sites.
âI have full confidence that there are people in the city who are capable of making a map and maintaining it,â she said. “All people want is to feel safe and get the best information possible.”