New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced the state Department of Health began conducting a statewide COVID-19 antibody testing survey April 20.
The testing survey will sample 3000 people for a population of 19.5 million. Germany performed a 3000-person sample with a population of 83 million. Largescale antibody testing will help determine the percentage of the population that is now immune to the novel coronavirus, allowing more individuals to safely return to their jobs.
“Any plan to start to reopen the economy has to be based on data and testing,” Cuomo said. “We have to make sure our antibody and diagnostic testing is up to the scale we need so we can safely get people back to work.”
He said New York is doing this testing in the most aggressive way in the nation amid the extension of his PAUSE order, which pushes the closure of nonessential businesses and schools through May 15. This also prolongs social distancing mandates, and the governor said there is currently no plan to reopen school. Cuomo announced the state will continue working with the federal government to assist with the supply chain and coordinate private labs to ramp up diagnostic testing, another key component of getting people back to work and restarting the economy.
“This will be the first true snapshot of exactly how many people were infected by COVID-19 and where we are as a population,” Cuomo said. “It will help us to reopen and rebuild without jeopardizing what we’ve already accomplished.”
Northwell Health President and CEO Michael Dowling toured the Northwell Health Core Lab in New Hyde Park with Cuomo before the governor delivered the testing news Sunday.
The nonprofit health care organization is New York’s largest employer, with 72,000 employees and 23 hospitals across the region.
Northwell Health established a COVID-19 Emergency Fund and a dedicated community fundraising website to support the nonprofit’s response efforts. Donations will allow health care heroes to continue critical work.
Northwell Health established the first drive-thru testing facility in the state, launched three clinical trials for patients moderately and severely ill with COVID-19 through the Feinstein Institutes for Medical Research, became one of the first labs in the country to perform COVID-19 testing, and designed and 3D printed an adaptor to convert sleep apnea machines into ventilators.
“While much is uncertain, one thing that remains constant is our courageous care team and support staff on the front lines who are working tirelessly each and every day to diagnose, treat, and prevent the spread of this outbreak while supporting each other,” Dowling said.
White House Criticism
At the daily White House Coronavirus Task Force briefing Sunday, President Donald Trump pushed back after receiving criticism from state governors who have argued his administration has not done enough to aid states in securing supplies like testing swabs.
“Testing is a local thing,” Trump said. “Our testing is expanding very rapidly by millions and millions of people.”
The President said the United States has a “tremendous capacity to test” and that “four million tests have been done” nationwide.
“In New York, the per capita testing is 67 percent higher than in Singapore,” Trump said.
He is prepared to use the Defense Production Act to increase production of tests if needed.
The state is also ready to transport 400 ventilators to Massachusetts within 24 hours if they are needed, as the COVID-19 hospitalization rate decreases, although the number of cases and daily deaths have remained relatively flat the last week. It has been more than 50 days since the first reported New York case, and almost 100 since COVID-19 hit the U.S.
As of April 21, there were nearly 243,000 statewide confirmed coronavirus cases. Nearly 135,000 of those infected were in New York City, more than 30,000 in Nassau County, and almost 27,000 in Suffolk.
Cuomo also signed an executive order allowing any authorized officiant to perform marriage ceremonies using online video technology. Many marriage bureaus temporarily closed as a result of the pandemic, preventing New Yorkers from getting a marriage license. On April 19, the governor allowed New Yorkers to obtain a marriage license remotely and allowed clerks to perform ceremonies via video conference, a practice that is banned under current law.
He and New York Attorney General Letitia James renewed a 30-day freeze of the state’s collection of medical or student loan debt. During this 30-day period, the attorney general’s office will reassess the needs of state residents for another possible extension. The office will also accept applications for suspension of all other types of New York debt.
Cuomo also announced last week, as of April 17 masks covering the mouth and nose are mandatory entering any retail store. Bandanas and scarves can also be used.
“Stopping the spread is everything,” Cuomo said. “How can you not wear a mask when you’re going to come close to a person?”
Grocery stores workers and other essential business personnel across the state were ordered to don masks beginning April 15.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had already recommended people wear cloth masks in public back in the beginning of April.
“If everybody does that, we’re each protecting each other,” Dr. Anthony Fauci said in an interview with PBS NewsHour anchor and managing editor Judy Woodruff April 3.
Fauci is an American physician and immunologist who has served as the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases since 1984, and is head of the Coronavirus Task Force.
“I have said that I feel we should be implementing this social distancing or physical separation, which in many respects means staying at home whenever possible,” Fauci said then. “I have articulated this multiple times, as well as several of my other colleagues. I’m not alone on this. They should be doing this.”
This could continue to prevent the spread of the virus on the East End.
A case-by-case analysis of reported cases in Suffolk County reveal the farther east — away from New York City — the better the chances of not contracting COVID-19.
As of April 20, there were 14.74 cases per 1000 residents in Huntington, 12.56 in Smithtown, 23.21 in Islip, 11.42 in Brookhaven, 8.1 in Riverhead, 7.58 in Southampton, and 5.58 in East Hampton.
As of April 19, 65,320 COVID-19 tests had been administered across Suffolk County, with 41.2 percent of those returning a positive result. More than 800 Suffolk County residents have died as a result of the novel coronavirus. More than 100 patients have been discharged from Suffolk County hospitals daily at least over this past week, most days more than 125 and 150 patients.
Returning To Normalcy?
President Donald Trump said during his White House briefing Saturday “we continue to see positive signs that the virus” is past its peak.
“We are winning” the COVID-19 war, he said, adding the U.S. has a lower mortality rate from the coronavirus per capita “than any other country except Germany.”
“We need to get Americans who are at less risk back to work,” Trump said.
Cuomo wants to temper any enthusiasm being garnered by talk of returning to a life of normalcy any time soon.
The governor said 2000 patients were admitted to hospitals on Friday. For the first time amid the pandemic, he announced what he describes as an “undeniably” positive trend, but there were 540 COVID-19 deaths reported from April 17 to 18 in New York — 504 died in hospitals and 36 in nursing homes. The latest fatalities bring the state’s death toll to over 14,500.
“Happy days are not here again,” Cuomo said. “That is still an overwhelming number every day.”
He said it’s important all levels of government project a unified message.
“Government matters today in a way it has not mattered in decades,” Cuomo said. “And it is important that government sends the right signal and one message and there is no confusion. Because if people don’t have confidence in government right now, if they think there is chaos or confusion or politics, that would be a terrible message to send.”
To the governor, the “beast is still alive.”
“We’ve been playing catchup from day one in this situation,” Cuomo said. “We showed that we can control the beast, and when you close down, you can actually slow that infection rate, but it’s only halftime. We have to make sure we keep that beast under control, we keep that infection rate down, we keep that hospitalization rate down as we now all get very eager to get on with life and move on. So, it is no time to relax. It’s not over.”