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COVID-19 Testing To Expand In NY

NY Gov. Andrew Cuomo in New Rochelle March 13, 2020.
NY Gov. Andrew Cuomo in New Rochelle March 13, 2020.

Governor Andrew Cuomo on Friday opened a drive-through coronavirus testing center in New Rochelle, which is at the epicenter of the disease in New York, and announced that the state now has more people with the disease than any other state.

The drive-through center has six lanes and can test up to 500 people a day in New Rochelle and the surrounding communities. Residents do have to make an appointment first.

The state also received permission from the federal Food and Drug Administration to allow New York to contract with 28 private labs to begin manual, automated testing for COVID-19. The state will also be able to use a high-volume testing platform developed by the pharmaceutical company Roche Industries, which could eventually produce test results in one to two days.  The governor says the approvals will increase the state's testing capacity from 3,000 tests to date to about 6,000 per day within the next week.

Cuomo says because of initial delays in the testing process by the federal government, it may be too late to catch up, though. The governor says he thinks thousands of New Yorkers may have already had the virus.

“If you talk to health care professionals they will say it is much more widespread today, then you know,” said Cuomo. “It was here before you knew it, it was wider spread in the past than you know, and it will spread more than you think.”

And he says based on the experiences in other countries, the virus could be around for six to nine months.

The governor also revealed that one of his daughters was in precautionary quarantine for 14 days after being exposed to someone with COVID-19. He says he did not visit her during that time.

Cuomo says he continues to be concerned about hospital capacity and whether New York’s hospitals have enough essential equipment, like ventilators. State Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker says his department is taking steps.

“We’re looking into all the issues of additional equipment, and we have purchased additional equipment, as well,” Zucker said.

Currently 12% of those infected in the state have been hospitalized, and a smaller percentage needed intensive care unit beds.  The governor says the state has just 3,200 ICU beds, and it’s difficult to quickly create new ones. That’s why Cuomo says measures need to be taken to slow the spread of the virus.

“If you don’t flatten that curve, the wave is a tsunami that that totally swamps the existing hospital system,” Cuomo said.

A number of school districts around the state announced on Friday that they are closing schools. The state's teachers unions are pressing for school closures. New York State United Teachers wants schools closed in counties where people have tested positive for the virus. New York City's teachers union, the United Federation of Teachers, wants the city's schools to end in- classroom instruction for a time. Cuomo says closing schools is a local decision, but he believes it might be an overreaction, based on the current numbers of infected people around the state. And he says if children are home, their parents, who might have essential jobs, have to be home, too.  

“If the kids are home, the parents are home. Well, if the parents are home, who is going to be working in my hospitals?” Cuomo said. “It’s complicated.”

There are other uncertainties about public events in the coming days, as well. Cuomo says no decision has been made yet on whether to postpone two upcoming scheduled elections, one in New York City on March 24, and the state’s presidential primary on April 28, or whether to alter requirements for petition gathering for political candidates, which is going on right now.

He says officials are considering whether to close gambling casinos, and he says no decision has yet been made on restricting access to the State Capitol.

Meanwhile, the State Office of Court Administration announced that no new criminal trials will occur after next Monday, March 16, though ongoing proceedings will continue, including grand juries that have already been empaneled. 

The courts also placed a moratorium on evictions. New York is waiving the 7-day waiting period to collect unemployment insurance, as downturns at many types of businesses make layoffs more likely.  

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of public radio stations in New York state. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.
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