(CNN) — Dr. Asma Rashid goes to a lot of exclusive parties in New York these days — but for a different reason. Hosts pay her to administer rapid coronavirus tests to guests at social events in the Hamptons, where the wealthy fled to seek refuge from the pandemic.
The tests have become a common feature before guests can be allowed into parties at the affluent seaside communities — and cost up to $500 per person, says Rashid, who runs a members-only medical concierge service.
And unlike regular tests, where people are waiting for days or even weeks, clients get their results on the spot. It’s a stark contrast to the rest of the country, where testing delays have been rampant. Experts say the longer turnaround has undermined the tests’ usefulness in identifying the virus and curbing its spread.
Hamptons party guests sign a consent to release their results once they’re out, Rashid says, which is usually within 10 to 30 minutes. The host then determines whether they’re allowed to enter.
“Instead of having hors d’oeuvres at the party, now the theme is let’s do rapid testing,” Rashid told CNN’s Anderson Cooper this week.
The tests are not always right, experts warn
There are two types of coronavirus testing. A viral test shows whether one has a current infection while an antibody test detects past infections.
Rashid says she’s administered the finger prick or nose swab in cars at various events, including sleepovers and family gatherings.
“I always have a disclaimer that no one test is 100%. Pandemic precautions should still be exercised,” she says. “But I do agree as a society and as citizens, if we have taken part in testing our guests, it’s still a good thing versus a taboo.”
The Food and Drug Administration has warned against the use of some rapid tests, saying they may give inaccurate negative results. For example, multiple studies have raised questions on a rapid test the White House uses, and the FDA has received reports of potential problems with that test.
That test — the Abbott’s point-of-care “ID NOW Covid-19” test, produces results in minutes. It’s portable enough to be used in mobile testing sites and rural regions that lack easy access to labs.
While studies have raised doubts about its accuracy, Abbott has disputed those reports and pointed to more favorable findings. Last month, the company said it has delivered 4.3 million such tests to all states and the rate of false negative complaints is 0.015%.
It’s unclear what specific tests are used in the Hamptons — there are several other tests authorized by the FDA. Rashid says her clients are aware of some of the tests’ false positives or negatives.
“They realize these tests are not 100%. But really do we have any current test that’s in the market that’s 100% reassurance to our people here in the United States?” she says.
Testing delays undermine efforts elsewhere
Suffolk County, where the Hamptons is located, has reported a total of 44,400 coronavirus cases and 2,000 deaths since the pandemic started. The county especially saw a sharp increase after the July 4 holiday.
Some parties have made headlines for defying social distancing rules. In July, state authorities said they’re investigating a drive-in benefit concert in Southhampton that violated social distancing guidelines. The benefit was billed as a socially-distanced drive-in concert, headlined by The Chainsmokers.
But instead, it “involved thousands of people in close proximity, out of their vehicles … and generally not adhering to social distancing guidance,” New York State Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker said at the time.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo said he was “appalled” by videos from the concert that showed “egregious social distancing violations.” He called it reckless endangerment of public health.
But in the past few weeks, Rashid says most of her rapid tests have been negative.
“Luckily in the Hamptons we are not seeing a lot of positive results. There are not many cases,” Rashid says.
While some Hamptons partygoers are able to get their results instantly, the state has seen testing delays. Last month, health experts warned that New York City is facing major delays in returning coronavirus test results, which could affect efforts to reopen the economy.
And the problem extends beyond New York. Some states, labs and public health departments have warned that turnaround times for diagnostic testing have slowed in part due to a growing demand and persistent obstacles in the supply chain.
“You do the testing to find out who’s carrying the virus and then quickly get them isolated so they don’t spread it around,” said Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes for Health. “We need to do things that are more on the spot. There’s a number of new technologies that are coming along that look very promising in that space. We need to invest a lot of money.”
Rashid says she’s aware that rapid tests are not available to everyone and in some cases, she has trouble getting them as well.
“Even for myself, we are able to pull some strings but if the manufacturer says we don’t have the test for another two weeks we can’t do anything about it,” she says. “I think that’s definitely a question at a government level as to why it’s not mass produced.”