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Staying Alive

An Ode to the COVID-19 Testing Van

RIP to my one true love.

12:21 PM EDT on May 15, 2023

A brightly colored NYC COVID-19 testing van parked on a city street.

(Hell Gate)

My first trip to one of the City-run COVID-19 testing vans was on July 15, 2021; my last was on March 12 of this year. In between, I made almost 30 trips to those mobile testing sites, which were sometimes a white van, sometimes a teal-colored one, but always beautiful, welcoming, necessary. 

During the worst of the pandemic and even post-vaccine, I would go get swabbed whenever I dared to see someone indoors, sans mask. Other times, I'd stop by because I was about to go on a date and was planning on breathing right into someone's face and swapping some bodily fluids (as safely as possible). Sometimes, I went because I was at the dog park and the van was there, and why not? 

Whatever the reason, the fact that I—and anyone else in the city—could walk up to a van and get some peace of mind and, if COVID-positive, get treatment, for the price of zero dollars was a mind-blowing revelation for someone accustomed to the indignities of a Bronze-level insurance plan. (Hey Healthfirst, you still owe me a fucking reimbursement for some COVID tests I bought.) 

For almost two years, my friends would receive regular texts from me along the lines of, "God I fucking love the COVID testing van," because it was true. I really did love those little vans, and the sometimes maternal, often bored public servants who staffed them. 

On April 31, the vans disappeared from our streets, more than a week before the federal government gave up and decided that the COVID-19 health emergency should officially end. 

Now that the pandemic has officially been declared over (haha), it's not just those gorgeous vans that are gone—free at-home kits will only be available at City sites like libraries until supplies run out, health insurance companies are no longer reimbursing the cost of rapid tests, and getting a test done at a private clinic may no longer be covered. Everything is going to get just a little bit harder, as it always seems to do. It's a particularly cruel ending, after we spent untold amounts of money creating a more robust public health system, born out of an extreme crisis, that pointed toward something better. 

But hey, at least we're still paying $200,000 each month to IBM for Excelsior Pass.  

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