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By Anna Irrera and Koh Gui Qing
NEW YORK, March 20 (Reuters) - As U.S. authorities scrambled to ramp up the nation’s capacity to test for coronavirus last week, at least 100 executives and other New Yorkers of means had easy access to testing, according to two sources familiar with the activities of a little-known medical service catering to the affluent.
These people paid a $5,000-a-year membership fee for a medical concierge service in New York City called Sollis Health, which worked with Enzo Clinical Labs Inc to test its members for COVID-19, according to the sources.
The arrangement gave members, which include people in finance, entertainment, advertising and media industries, access to the tests at home at a time New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said the state had the capacity to test just a few hundred patients a day. The two sources declined to provide the identities of the people the company tested for coronavirus and Reuters could not establish them.
The demand for the coronavirus testing services provided by Sollis underscores the lack of preparedness of public health institutions. The access it provided its members is the latest example of how well-to-do people got coronavirus tests at a time of scarcity.
Sollis is part of a lucrative cottage industry, where membership costs can run into tens of thousands of dollars a year for services such as special access to doctors and private emergency rooms. These companies have found a niche in wealthy cities like New York and San Francisco as the rich seek access to better healthcare. Reuters was unable to ascertain if other medical concierge services also were offering coronavirus tests.
The company triaged requests and only tested patients who showed symptoms that warranted further inquiry, in line with New York health department guidelines, one source said.
In the past few days questions have swirled on Twitter about how some celebrities, sports teams and bankers managed to get the tests when they were hard to come by.
“Clearly there is access beyond what most Americans are seeing is available,” said Dr. Jake Deutsch, a clinical director of New York-based Cure Urgent Care, commenting on the broader lack of testing. “Hopefully we will get mass testing soon, it shouldn’t be based on your class or any other factor other than symptoms.”
Deutsch’s New York-based practice started testing patients on Saturday and offers walk-ins for people of different socioeconomic backgrounds, including individuals with Medicare, he said.
One of those tested by Deutsch’s practice was social media influencer Arielle Charnas, who posted about her results on Instagram. Deutsch said Charnas, a friend, was sick and did not get special treatment. Charnas did not respond to a request for a comment.
So far, at least 10,990 cases of the novel coronavirus have been reported in the United States and 95 people have died from the COVID-19 disease, according to a Reuters tally of state and local government websites on Tuesday afternoon. For a graphic, click tmsnrt.rs/2w7hX9T
Sollis Health has locations in the Upper East Side and Tribeca neighborhoods of Manhattan. “At the ER, you’ll wait 5 hours. Our doctors can handle most medical issues immediately,” it says on its website. “It can take weeks to see the best specialists. We get you in right away.”
The company started to get inquiries about testing for coronavirus around the end of February, as cases began to spread in Italy, the person familiar with the matter said. Some of its members had traveled to areas affected and wanted to get tested, the person said.
Its physicians contacted the New York Department of Health for coronavirus tests. They were able to perform several, but found the availability of tests was limited, the person said. They also used swabs to run tests for other types of respiratory diseases, which if diagnosed, could help reduce the likelihood of the member also having COVID-19, this person said.
The New York health department did not respond to a request for comment on its dealings with Sollis.
On March 6, Enzo Biochem Inc said it will begin accepting specimens for COVID-19 testing at its lab from the following week. Enzo, which already does work for Sollis Health, told the company it could do the tests for its members, the source said.
Reporting by Anna Irrera and Koh Gui Qing. Editing by Paritosh Bansal and Edward Tobin