By Daniel Laplaza and S. Mitra Kalita

People waiting to receive their COVID-19 vaccination or test on a rainy day at our Queens Village pop-up van. (Daniel Laplaza/Epicenter

On a recent rainy day at our popup vaccination and testing van in Queens Village, dozens of New Yorkers grew angrier by the minute, or sometimes hours, standing in line. Arguments erupted between those waiting and those working. People accused each other of cutting in line or lying about holding a space for someone. Folks cursed at each other, the staff, the city and the pandemic as a whole.

It’s understandable to get frustrated waiting in these long lines. We are all in a time of crisis, concerned that we may be sick or doing what we can to avoid getting sick. We arrive at these testing and vaccination sites with other places to be and other things to get done. So, the last thing we want to do is wait.

Since arranging our Queens Village popup (it’s run by the Test & Trace Corp.) in late September 2021, the lines have grown due to mandates and variant-related surges. To state the obvious, more people hoping to get vaccinated or tested means longer lines. However, there are a few other reasons we see that make the process slow and inefficient:

  1. Technology. At our popup van, folks register for testing by scanning a QR code that starts them on DocGo’s Rapid Reliable online sign up. The problems begin when folks either don’t understand how to scan the QR code, don’t have a phone that supports QR codes or can’t connect to mobile internet. While the signup process is relatively intuitive for tech-savvy folks, it requires you to create a profile with an email address in order to receive your results. People at times forget their email login, don’t receive the necessary confirmation email or don’t even have an email address at all. These technological barriers hold up the line. To be clear, administrators on the vaccine van are able to register folks who can’t sign up through the QR code, though it takes more time to do so. To make matters worse, sometimes the van’s computers don’t turn on, printers don’t work or wifi doesn’t connect. These issues can halt vaccination or testing completely. We once needed to input each patient code by hand because the printer broke down.
  2. Language barriers. As part of our outreach efforts, Epicenter tries to have a Spanish and Haitian Creole speaker on site in Queens Village. That is sometimes not the case and can lead to long delays if the van crew does not speak the language of the person seeking services. 
  3. Delivering rapid results. Because most testing vans offer a combination of PCR and rapid antigen tests, the same staff swabbing your nose are also tasked with reading the results. They get backed up and often stop taking new entrants to communicate the rapid results en masse. 
  4. Breaks. Staff often work nonstop and are entitled (rightfully) to time off during their shift, whether it’s a short break or an hour off for lunch. 
  5. Shortages. Of staff but also medicine. There are days when our mobile vaccine unit runs out of vaccine vials. When this happens, the options are either to close up shop or pick up vials from another vaccination site, which has taken hours.
  6. Emotions. Responding to frayed emotions takes time. People waiting and people working will occasionally get frustrated with one another. These emotions can get the best of people and lead to outbursts of anger. Those confrontations steal time away from the work that is needed to be done. 

If you run or volunteer at a vaccine or testing site, here are some suggestions that work for us to help reduce frustrations when challenges prevent us from moving the line any faster:

Communicating frequently and consistently is key. We welcome folks and help make sure they understand the situation right away. Simply asking how they’re doing or if they need help can make people feel heard and attended to.

Provide honest estimates of wait times so people can decide for themselves if they want to stick around. What’s worse than receiving news of a long wait is being lied to about the long wait. Instead of giving a timeline that isn’t realistic, let folks know how long you’ll be before you come back to check in on them. 

Share helpful information that people can read while they wait. For example, we provide printouts of how to claim your incentives and what type of face mask you should be wearing. Hand- delivering printed information helps connect people with resources they may not have otherwise and possibly helps distract their minds away from the long wait times. 

Whether you’re working, volunteering, or waiting in line, remember we all have the same goal; to keep ourselves and each other safe. If you have tips or suggestions on how to get lines moving or help people feel more comfortable, email us at hello@epicenter-nyc.com.

If you would like to get vaccinated or tested at our Queens Village pop-up, here are the details:

FOR ADULTS: 

Wednesdays: 9am-7pm 1/19; Sundays: 8am-6pm 1/16, 1/23.

FOR CHILDREN: Wednesdays: 10am-6pm 1/12, 1/19.

Location: Ss. Joachim & Anne Church and Wayanda Park, 217-72 Hollis Ave., Queens Village, NY 11429

Vaccines offered: 

On Wednesdays: Pfizer for ages 5+, Johnson & Johnson (J&J) for ages 18+.

On Sundays: Pfizer for ages 12+, J&J for ages 18+. Covid-19 tests will be offered on both days.

If you can’t make it out to Queens Village but would like someone to book an appointment for you or your child ages 5+, or if you’d like an at-home appointment for you or your child ages 5+:

Fill out our intake form

Call us: (917) 818-2690

Email us: vaccine@epicenter-nyc.com

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