NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — From new variants to holiday gatherings, the number of COVID-19 cases are on the rise in in the Big Apple.

The situation is overwhelming testing sites and those waiting in line.

CBS2’s Jenna DeAngelis has more on how the city plans to tackle this.

FIND TESTING SITES: Click here for New York City’s testing site locator, including mobile sites and at-home appointments

AVOID THE LINES: Click here for NYC Health+Hospitals testing wait times

New holiday season, same old story: long lines and wait times at testing sites around the five boroughs, from a mobile van on the Upper West Side to another in Crown Heights, Brooklyn.

“I’ve been going to get tested every week here for the last month and a half, two months, and it has been ​five-minute wait at most until this week,” said Ezra Benus of Crown Heights.

On Thursday, Benus said he waited an hour and a half.

“This is after coming yesterday twice and then not being able to get tested here,” Benus said.

“I was surprised there was this line here today, but I decided I’d stick it out because of the new variants,” said Al Diraffaele of SoHo.

“I think there’s definitely gotta be a better way, at least like some way to know when the lines aren’t long,” added Jackie Coleman of Midtown.

COVID VACCINE

And at-home tests are flying off store shelves. The pharmacist at Bowen Pharmacy said they’re in such high demand, he could only order a dozen.

“All 12 came in this morning and all 12 are sold out,” Michael Morelli said.

Michael Carugan at Value Drugs in Eastchester said he can’t keep enough on the shelves.

“Probably within the hour we’ve sold 23 test kits in the hour … They are flying off the counter, I have to say,” Carugan told CBS2’s Dick Brennan.

But the two-test box goes for about $30, prompting many to call for the government to give them away for free.

“It’s just infuriating that almost two years into this pandemic it’s still so hard to get a test,” said City Councilman Mark Levine, chairman of the Committee on Health.

Levine has been fighting for the supply to meet the demand.

“The city and the state and the federal government need to use their purchasing power to buy millions of rapid self-tests that can then be distributed at places like libraries and also can be mailed upon request to people’s homes,” Levine said.

To start, the city will distribute 500,000 at-home tests through community-based organizations. It’s part of a plan announced by the city on Thursday, which includes increasing testing capacity.

“New fixed sites for testing and we will be expanding hours and capacity at many of our existing sites,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said.

“If you come to one of our Test & Trace Corps brick and mortar sites and there’s a line, we’re gonna arm that site with home tests,” Dr. Ted Long said.

CORONAVIRUS PANDEMIC

Many medical experts think frequent at-home testing could be our way out of the pandemic, but CBS2 wanted to know, do they really do the job?

“So the at-home tests are less effective than the laboratory tests,” COVID medical advisor Dt. Stuart Weiss said.

However, Weiss said right now the tests could be very useful, especially if you are visiting around the holidays.

“If you are visiting grandma tonight, I would do an at-home test on the day I’m going to visit grandma. That they are very good at.  Within like six hours of an event, the at-home test are very good,” Weiss said.

Of course, the Omicron variant is changing everything, and the Centers for Disease Control is studying whether the at-home tests will be effective in detecting it.

“We think the home tests are gonna be okay because they are looking at part of the virus that should remain constant, but that data is still out,” Weiss said.

This all in response to a massive spike. The city says the seven-day average for new cases has tripled in the last month. Cases are up nearly 50% since last month nationwide. The CDC says while the Delta variant remains the dominant strain, Omicron cases are doubling every two days.

“I think we need to continue protecting each other, and getting vaccinated and getting tested is really important,” Benus said.

And the vaccine is a gift that is available to all this holiday season.

If you want to get tested, before you go to a city site, you can check wait times listed above or scan the QR code on the video above.

CBS2’s Dick Brennan contributed to this report, which first appeared on Dec. 16.

Jenna DeAngelis