NYC has seen vending machines for engagement rings and Brooks Brothers shirts, as well as PPE like gloves and sanitizing wipes, but this new Manhattan machine is really testing the limits.
Since January, a storefront at 225 W. 34th St. — formerly home to a Lane Bryant — has hosted two of health company Wellness 4 Humanity’s new vending machines, which sell DIY at-home COVID tests instead of snacks or sodas.
For $149 — credit or debit cards only, no cash — you can pick up a PCR saliva test, use it at your leisure, mail it to one of the company’s partner labs via FedEx with a pre-printed label and get your results via text or email in 48 hours.
“I wanted to get something quick that would be reliable,” said Lauren Folland, 24, of Jamaica, Queens, who got a test from the machine on Monday after flying home from a Fresno, California, funeral.
Researchers at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center found that, in the detection of COVID-19, a self-collected saliva sample is as accurate as a nasal swab administered by a health care worker.
In comparison to the pharmacy drive-thrus where Folland has been tested 10 or so times over the course of the pandemic, the machine-dispensed kit felt like “the most luxury way to get tested: You don’t have to sit in your car. You just go and pick up the test and do it at home,” she told The Post, adding that not having to “deal with scheduling” was a bonus.
While not FDA approved, the test is among a swath of at-home nasal and saliva collection kits available under emergency use authorization (EUA) — meaning the FDA allows them “when certain statutory criteria have been met, including that there are no adequate, approved and available alternatives.”
Experts say that DIY kits can help curb the virus’ spread by minimizing exposure to health care workers and other, potentially infected people, and by reducing turnaround times.
“The use of self-collected saliva has the potential to minimize health care worker exposure and decrease the need for specialized collection devices, such as swabs and viral transport media,” said Esther Babady, director of the Clinical Microbiology Service at MSK, in December.
Folland received the kit for free from the company, and the assistant property manager said she wouldn’t make this her regular form of testing. “I would love to be able to afford [the kits] all the time, but they’re quite expensive,” she said (the tests can be submitted for insurance reimbursement). The machines are also subject to the building’s hours — it’s open from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. “If it was just on the street it would be a lot easier,” she added.
Wellness 4 Humanity aims to install the machines in other major cities, including Los Angeles, San Francisco, Boston and Dallas. The Oakland International Airport already has them, and some colleges have also recently installed COVID test-dispensing vending machines, including the University of California in San Diego.
While Folland said the experience was streamlined, she also admitted that it felt like a sad sign of the times.
“It’s odd that this is our life now: Vending machines are not for fun things, but [for] something as scary as a PCR COVID test,” she said. “The function makes sense, but it’s also like, ‘Wow this is what you’re living in right now.’ ”