New York Governor Andrew Cuomo says he’s opening an investigation of the state’s nursing homes who might have violated rules regarding how to care for COVID-19 patients. The announcement comes as the governor says a random antibody testing of 3,000 New Yorkers finds 13.9% have already had the virus.
Cuomo says the tests were conducted in 40 grocery stores in 19 counties across the state earlier in the week.
“It means you are testing people who by definition are out of the home and not at work,” Cuomo said.
The preliminary results show the percentage of New Yorkers who have already had the disease varies in regions of the state, with the highest number, 21.2% in New York City, which has been the epicenter of the virus, 16.7% on Long Island were previously infected and recovered, 11.7% in Westchester and Rockland counties, and 3.6% in the rest of state.
The governor says the lower rate of infection upstate supports the views that perhaps some regions of the state could reopen earlier than others. But he says he continues to worry that people from areas still closed up will flock to areas that reopen first.
“You have a pent-up demand in the tri-state area,” Cuomo said. “Where one region opens up for business, you could see people come in, literally, from the tri-state area, and overwhelm that region.”
The state’s nursing homes are facing new scrutiny, after some families have complained that they weren’t notified about the health status of their relatives in some facilities, or even told whether any residents were sick with the coronavirus. Many nursing homes are privately owned, but they are regulated by the state. Under current rules, nursing homes are supposed to supply all staff with PPE, check the temperatures of all employees who enter the facility each day, and ban visitors. If a resident contracts the virus, they need to be quarantined from the others. If the nursing home can’t do that safely under CDC guidelines, then they must transfer the patient to a facility that can care for them. And families need to be notified within 24 hours if their relative test positive for the virus, or has died from it.
Cuomo says the state’s Attorney General, Tish James, will work with the state health department to investigate allegations that some of the homes aren’t following the rules. The governor says he understands that the nursing homes are in a “crisis situation” and under a lot of pressure.
“This is a very intense situation for nursing homes, we get it,” Cuomo said. “But they still have to perform their job and do their job by the rules and regulations.”
But he says those found to be violating the rules will be fined, or in some cases, could lose their operating license.
Cuomo says the daily death toll is still “terrible” with 438 lives lost to the disease Wednesday. But that number is lower than it’s been for much of April, and the number of new hospitalizations for the virus is also waning, and the state is likely past the apex, though 15,021 are still in the hospital.
The governor says if the numbers continue to go down, the rate of infection may be low by the summer. But Cuomo says he and health experts have concerns about a second wave of the virus next fall, that could coincide with flu season, and he says the state has to be prepared.
“That’s then problematic,” said Cuomo, who said people with symptoms will be seeking test for both the flu and COVID-19.
“That could be a possible overwhelming of the testing system,” he said.
And he says the health care system could also again be overwhelmed, if steps aren’t taken now.