Westchester County has begun COVID-19 testing in its nursing homes as New York is reporting more than 1,700 previously undisclosed deaths at nursing homes and adult care facilities. Meantime, the Westchester County Center, which the state had set up as an overflow hospital, is being used in another capacity — antibody testing for the county’s first responders.
Democratic Westchester County Executive George Latimer directed the county health department to test every resident of every nursing home in the county after getting permission from the state Department of Health. Calling it a massive task, Latimer says testing began Monday at the Victoria Home in Ossining.
“And we’re going to work our way through as many of these facilities as possible, testing all patients and trying to determine if those who have COVID and those who do not, and then, out of that, decisions will be made about how those patients are to be dealt with, where they’re going to be housed, in what capacity, to try to reduce the spread in our nursing homes,” says Latimer. “Nursing homes are accounting for a significant number of our fatalities. Obviously, people in nursing homes have existing health-care issues. That co-morbidity creates a climate of the worst possible scenario for people fighting this disease.”
“As I interpret it, it’s not just nursing homes as a class; it also includes assisted living facilities and I hope we can extend that to include senior citizen subsidized housing, perhaps even group homes, wherever there are a combination of people who are, in some way, shape or form, part of the vulnerable population,” Latimer says.
Latimer says once testing in nursing homes advances, certain statistics may change; there may be an uptick in the number of positive cases.
Meantime, Latimer is facilitating 400 COVID-19 daily antibody tests for all of Westchester’s first responders. The test determines whether one’s immune system has responded to the virus. It also allows for the donation of blood plasma that may assist in the fight against the virus. The testing is at the Westchester County Center in White Plains.
“There are hospital bed structures in there to take care of any overflow. We’ve not needed the overflow yet but it’s the perfect setting for us to have people from Westchester Medical Center do the antibody testing, and we’ve targeted our first responders. We’ve begun with our county first responders from the Public Safety Department, which is our county police, the Corrections Department, Probation Department. Those are the first. We have a couple of other county departments that will go through this. They’re out in public contact circumstances,” Latimer says. “We will then be working with our local governments to identify their first responders — police, fire, EMS and so forth — that will also go through the antibody testing. This, by the way, is a voluntary test.”
He expects the antibody testing will open to municipal first responders next week. Latimer also directed residents to the state health department website for contact tracing information as New York plans to hire a team of 6,400 to 17,000 staff statewide, depending on the projected number of COVID-19 cases. Latimer says the county is gearing up for this phase.
On Monday, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced guidelines for when regions may reopen. Latimer says he’s reviewing them.
“I think we’re reasonably well positioned, and we certainly want to do the right thing for the right thing’s sake, not just as a reason to open up the county but, if we truly have gotten ahead of the curve on this, then all things, I guess, are possible,” says Latimer. “We have not gotten ahead of it yet. We’ve made some strides, some positive strides but, we’re not there yet.”
As for the numbers, Latimer says active cases in Westchester are roughly half, now 5,584, than in mid-April, with numbers dropping daily.
“The strategies that have been put in place are working,” Latimer says. “We’re seeing the numbers drop.”
And COVID-19 deaths have fallen to fewer than 20 per day. However, hospitalizations spiked overnight by 50, after a steady decrease over the past three weeks. Latimer says about 10 percent of the county’s population has been tested.
“We have tested over 100,000 individuals,” Latimer says.
Separately, Latimer is asking for smart-phone video submissions from community leaders, teachers, parents, grandparents and siblings to say congratulations and best of luck to high school seniors as part of the county’s virtual graduation ceremony. School buildings in New York are closed the rest of the academic year. (If you would like to participate, send your video to Communications@WestchesterGov.com.)
On the recreation front, Latimer says another two of the county’s golf courses opened over the weekend, so there is teeing off on four of six courses. He says there has been no decision yet about summer camps.
If you would like to participate, send your video to Communications@WestchesterGov.com. Eventually, we will have a string of congratulatory messages from citizens all over the County, in honor of Westchester County’s graduating class of 2020.