Tag Archives: coronavirus in New York State

Amid Ongoing COVID-19 Pandemic, NYS on Pause Extended for Next 2 Weeks; Schools Can Host Free Day Care, Pharmacies Offer Free Delivery

Directs State Nonessential Workforce to Work from Home for Additional Two Weeks Through April 15th

New York’s Wadsworth Lab has Developed New, Less Intrusive Test for COVID-19

Executive Order Also Allows Schools to Host Day Care Free of Charge

Following Governor’s Call, Pharmacies Have Agreed to Offer Free Home Delivery

Announces State, in Partnership with Assembly Speaker Heastie, Senator Bailey, Assemblyman Benedetto and Borough President Diaz Jr., is Launching a New Mobile Testing Site in the Bronx

Confirms 7,195 Additional Coronavirus Cases in New York State – Bringing Statewide Total to 59,513; New Cases in 44 Counties

Governor Cuomo also announced that New York State’s Wadsworth Lab has developed a new, less intrusive test for COVID-19. The new test is done through a saliva sample and a self-administered short nasal swab in the presence of a health care professional. Additionally, health care professionals can self-administer the test without another health care professional present. This new test will help conserve personal protective equipment, or PPE, for healthcare workers, reduce potential exposure of the virus to health care workers and will allow the state to continue to test as many individuals as possible in New York amid the national shortage of the more intrusive nasopharyngeal, or NP, swabs. (c) Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

Amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today announced all NYS on Pause functions will be extended for the next two weeks. The Governor also directed the state nonessential workforce to continue to work from home for an additional two weeks through April 15th. The state will re-evaluate after this additional two-week period.

In-person workforce restrictions, which have been implemented through various Executive Orders —202.3 (restaurants and bars, gyms, fitness centers, movie theaters and casinos); 202.4 (local government workforces, school districts; village elections); 202.5 (malls, public amusement facilities); 202.6 (all non-essential reduce 50%); 202.7 (barber shops, salons, other personal care); 202.8 (DMV); 202.10 (non-essential gatherings of any size); 202.11 (extension of school district closure until April 15, 2020) — are also extended until April 15, 2020 to enable uniform extension and review of such restrictions, and any such restrictions may be extended by future executive orders.

Governor Cuomo also announced that New York State’s Wadsworth Lab has developed a new, less intrusive test for COVID-19. The new test is done through a saliva sample and a self-administered short nasal swab in the presence of a health care professional. Additionally, health care professionals can self-administer the test without another health care professional present. This new test will help conserve personal protective equipment, or PPE, for healthcare workers, reduce potential exposure of the virus to health care workers and will allow the state to continue to test as many individuals as possible in New York amid the national shortage of the more intrusive nasopharyngeal, or NP, swabs. Self-collection of nasal swabs has been done before for other respiratory viruses such as flu and it has been shown to be effective and safe, and collection of a saliva sample is simple and non-invasive. This new testing will begin within a week.

The Governor also issued an executive order to allow schools to host day care free of charge.

After speaking with the state’s major pharmacy chains, the Governor announced that pharmacies have agreed to offer free home delivery to help reduce long lines for prescriptions at their facilities.

“There is no state in the nation that is better prepared or better mobilized to combat this virus than New York,” Governor Cuomo said. “The number of cases is still going up towards the apex, and the development of new, faster tests will be critical in flattening this curve, getting people back to work and returning to normalcy. The state’s Wadsworth lab has developed a new, less intrusive test that will allow us to increase our testing capacity, as well as save valuable PPE for our healthcare workers. We will get through this because we are New Yorkers – we are strong, we have endurance and we have stability. We have a plan, we’re executing that plan and we will manage any obstacle that we come across.”

Governor Cuomo also announced, in partnership with Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, Senator Jamaal Bailey, Assemblyman Michael Benedetto and Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr., that the State is launching a new mobile testing site in Co-Op City, the largest public housing development (Mitchell Lama) in the country. This new mobile testing site located at the Bay Plaza Mall Parking Lot, AMC Cinema entrance in the Bronx will provide tests by appointment only and will prioritize symptomatic individuals who had close exposure to a positive COVID-19 case, health care workers and first responders displaying symptoms, and those working in or having recently visited a nursing home who exhibit COVID-19 symptoms. To get an appointment, New Yorkers can call the Coronavirus hotline at 1-888-364-3065.

Finally, the Governor confirmed 7,195 additional cases of novel coronavirus, bringing the statewide total to 59,513 confirmed cases in New York State. Of the 59,513 total individuals who tested positive for the virus, the geographic breakdown is as follows:      

County Total Positive New Positive
Albany 205 10
Allegany 6 4
Broome 29 6
Cattaraugus 4 3
Cayuga 2 0
Chautauqua 5 0
Chemung 15 3
Chenango 15 7
Clinton 13 1
Columbia 23 1
Cortland 6 1
Delaware 8 0
Dutchess 320 58
Erie 358 40
Essex 4 0
Franklin 6 2
Fulton 1 0
Genesee 9 2
Greene 7 0
Hamilton 2 0
Herkimer 10 1
Jefferson 7 1
Lewis 2 2
Livingston 10 5
Madison 24 5
Monroe 219 27
Montgomery 6 1
Nassau 6445 908
Niagara 38 5
NYC 33768 4002
Oneida 26 3
Onondaga 152 23
Ontario 18 2
Orange 1247 146
Orleans 3 0
Oswego 8 1
Otsego 10 3
Putnam 144 13
Rensselaer 39 1
Rockland 2209 313
Saratoga 102 6
Schenectady 76 4
Schoharie 5 0
Schuyler 1 0
St. Lawrence 12 4
Steuben 17 4
Suffolk 5023 885
Sullivan 88 16
Tioga 4 0
Tompkins 52 7
Ulster 146 18
Warren 18 5
Washington 7 1
Wayne 12 0
Westchester 8519 644
Wyoming 8 1

NY, NJ, CT Unify Regional Approach to Combat Spread of Coronavirus

New York, New Jersey, Connecticut have unified on policies regarding closures, including public schools, to combat the spread of coronavirus (c) Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

By Karen Rubin, News-Photos-Features.com

Amid a lack of federal direction and nationwide standards, New York Governor Andrew M. Cuomo, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy and Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont today announced a regional approach to combating the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) throughout the tri-state area, in announcing closures of restaurants, bars, gyms, movie theaters and gatherings over 50 people, as well as public schools.

But the governors all called upon the federal government – the Army Corps of Engineers and FEMA – to assist with building emergency hospitals and providing medical equipment and protective gear for health workers.

In what may be the first regional coalition in the country to slow the spread of the infection, these uniform standards will limit crowd capacity for social and recreational gatherings to 50 people, effective 8 PM tonight. This follows updated guidance that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued yesterday recommending the cancellation or postponement of in-person events consisting of 50 people or more.

The three governors also announced restaurants and bars will close for on premise service and move to take-out and delivery services only. These establishments will be provided a waiver for carry-out alcohol. These measures will take effect at 8 PM tonight.

Finally, the three governors said they will temporarily close movie theaters, gyms and casinos, effective at 8 PM tonight. 

This uniform approach to social distancing is meant to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus, or COVID-19. 

“Our primary goal right now is to slow the spread of this virus so that the wave of new infections doesn’t crash our healthcare system, and everyone agrees social distancing is the best way to do that,” New York Governor Cuomo said. “This is not a war that can be won alone, which is why New York is partnering with our neighboring states to implement a uniform standard that not only keeps our people safe but also prevents ‘state shopping’ where residents of one state travel to another and vice versa. I have called on the federal government to implement nationwide protocols but in their absence we are taking this on ourselves.”

New Jersey Governor Murphy said, “With all we are seeing in our state – and across our nation and around the world – the time for us to take our strongest, and most direct, actions to date to slow the spread of coronavirus is now. I’ve said many times over the past several days that, in our state, we are going to get through this as one New Jersey family. But if we’re all in this together, we must work with our neighboring states to act together. The work against coronavirus isn’t just up to some of us, it’s up to all of us.”

Connecticut Governor Lamont said, “The only way to effectively fight the spread of COVID-19 is by working together as states. We have shared interests, and a patchwork of closures and restrictions is not the best way forward. I know that because of this collaboration, we will save lives.”

But the governors called upon the federal government to quickly assist to address what is anticipated as a critical shortage of hospital capacity, medical equipment and protective gear for health workers.

 “The best way to [add hospital capacity] is the Army Corp of Engineers – they build airports, bridges,” said Governor Cuomo. “They have the personnel, equipment and do it well. They have the medical equipment and experience setting up hospitals. The state doesn’t have existing workforce. We could contract out –and expedite contracting, which is very expensive – but we still don’t have the medical equipment. It is very, very hard for a state to get this equipment. Everybody wants ventilators, oxygen tanks. The federal government has a stockpile of emergency medical equipment. [But], if the federal government doesn’t step up and doesn’t step up quickly, states will be forced to do what they can on own, and New York will do exactly that” – use its own construction authority and Dormitory Authority to build.

New Jersey Governor Murphy said that to expand his state’s hospital capacity, “we are looking at host of contingency plans in similar light. We have had constructive conversations with FEMA, but more about testing. We will take all the help we can get. Our big needs from the federal government alongside testing is personal protective equipment. In long term, we will need help with economic recovery – states can’t do that on own. But our immediate need on personal protective equipment.

 “We need hospital beds and within a couple of weeks,” Connecticut Governor Lamont said. “We are woefully short, especially if a surge comes, even if we flatten the curve in the most optimistic way, we are badly outgunned. We saw what happened in China, where built new hospitals, added capacity in short order.”

The governors said they were not going to shut down public transportation, but to “right size the equipment to ridership,” Governor Murphy said. “There are huge focuses on hygiene, cleanliness, making sure all the equipment is as clean and germ free as possible.”

Meanwhile, the governors are looking to increase telecommunications capacity, to enable people to telecommute, to maintain education online and medical assistance, as well as stay in touch with family.

“We’re working with telecom service providers ,upping capacity, taking away caps, to learn at home, telehealth at home, so people get out of cars and stay closer at home,” Said Governor Lamont. “Ridership on rail is way down.”

“New York also,” Cuomo added. “We want people  to stay home, so we need capacity for telecommuting.”

The three states, acting in concert, are shutting down bars and restaurants except for take out and delivery. The exceptions will be supermarkets, pharmacies, gas stations and other essential retailers.

New Jersey is strongly discouraging nonessential travel between 8 pm & 5 am on any given day beginning tonight.

Other states may join New York, New Jersey and Connecticut in a wider regional coalition for coordinated action – including Pennsylvania, Massachusetts and Rhode Island.

Asked about the downsides to closing public schools – including loss of food service for needy children, and child care for workers, Cuomo said, “We will do it in a way that accentuates the upside and negates the downside. The downside is people lose childcare, first responders may not be able to go to work, especially healthcare workers if there isn’t child care, so the crash will be on the healthcare system. So we said that schools can close but must provide child care for essential workers, first responders, healthcare workers. Schools close but we will not stop the food for breakfast, lunch, dinner. Educational opportunities lost but we are planning to continue to teach through telecommuting or summer school if this has abated to that point by summer.

“There are few easy calls on this one,” Governor Murphy said. “There is enormous pressure on the economy, small businesses going forward. In schools, the three issues referenced- food security (we have a couple of hundred thousand kids who depend on schools for a hot meal), child care, remote learning  (250,000 New Jersey kids don’t have access to device). So we are preprinting monthly syllibi. None of these decisions are easy, without offsets. But we believe strongly this is right path to pursue.

As for tribal casinos in New York and Connecticut, which as sovereign nations, the states cannot order to close but Governor Cuomo said “This is a ‘do the right thing’ situation.”

Earlier, Governor Cuomo had issued a ruling to close schools in New York City, Westchester, Nassau and Suffolk, and instructed New York City to develop a plan within 24 hours to ensure children who rely on school breakfast and lunch programs will continue to receive that support, and parents – especially critical healthcare workers and first responders – will be provided access to child care as needed.  

“Our goal is to slow the spread of the virus to a rate that the healthcare system can manage, and one of the ways to do that is to reduce density,” Governor Cuomo said.”Closing the schools is a good idea but you have to anticipate and correct any unintended consequences – we have to ensure children who rely on free school meals continue to get them and that there’s adequate child care, especially for healthcare workers and first responders who are parents of young children. We will close these schools but it needs to be done with these contingencies in mind so that children are not harmed and our hospitals aren’t understaffed – otherwise we cut off our nose to spite our face.”

The Governor also called on 1199 SEIU President George Gresham, New York State Nurses Association President Judy Sheridan Gonzalez, Greater New York Hospitals Association President Ken Raske and United Federation of Teachers President Mike Mulgrew to work together to ensure children who rely on school breakfast and lunch programs will continue to receive that support, and parents will be provided access to child care as needed, including temporary daycare centers. These centers would prioritize care for children of healthcare workers and first responders to ensure these school closures do not strain the hospital and emergency response systems.

Earlier today, the Governor tasked SUNY Empire State College President Jim Malatras with working with counties to develop contingency plans in preparation for school closings, including how to provide meals to food insecure children and ensuring families have adequate access to childcare.

County executives from Westchester, Suffolk and Nassau joined a conference call with Governor Cuomo to discuss the school closures.: 

Westchester County Executive George Latimer said, “Our county has been coordinating with the State to ensure an effective means of slowing the spread of the COVID-19 virus. Cancelling group events and meetings, limiting access for non-essential social contacts and anticipating additional testing and healthcare needs are all part of our response in concert with the Governor and his administration. Closing schools – with adequate childcare and nutrition provisions – is the next step we will undertake this week. We deeply appreciate the leadership shown by Governor Cuomo.”

“Over the last several days we have worked with our state and local partners on the potential closure of schools as the number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 continued to increase around the state,” Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone said. “As part of our larger social distancing efforts, we came to the conclusion that closing schools is the right thing to do at this time. I would like to thank Governor Cuomo for his leadership as we deal with this crisis as well as our school districts for their partnership and swift action to protect Suffolk families.”

Nassau County Executive Laura Curran said, “I thank Governor Cuomo for fully supporting our decision to close all public and private schools and for his unwavering commitment to ensure every child in Nassau County is fully taken care of while this crisis continues to unfold. We all agree that nothing is more important than the safety and well-being of our children.”

NYS Restricts Mass Gatherings, Visits to Nursing Homes & Creates Drive-Thru Testing Facility as Numbers of Coronavirus Cases Rise

New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo, touring Northwell Labratory on Long Island, announced the first public drive-through testing facility for coronavirus on the East Coast and new restrictions on gatherings of more than 500 as the number of coronavirus cases rises in the state © Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com.

With the Trump Administration’s response to the coronavirus pandemic in severe disarray, it is falling to states and localities to protect their residents. This is the latest from New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo:

During a novel coronavirus briefing, Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today announced the state will institute limits on mass gatherings, directing events with 500 or more individuals in attendance to be cancelled or postponed. Public health experts agree mass gatherings with people making sustained close contact are a place where the novel coronavirus can easily infect many people quickly and continue its spread. As such, events, gatherings, or places of business with less than 500 individuals in attendance will be required to cut capacity by 50 percent, with exceptions being made for spaces where individuals do not make sustained close contact, such as schools, hospitals, public buildings, mass transit, grocery stores and retail stores. These new regulations will go into effect Friday, March 13th at 5pm, with the exception of Broadway Theaters where the limits will go into effect this evening at 5pm.

In an effort to protect some of the most vulnerable New Yorkers, Governor Cuomo also announced only medically necessary visits will be allowed at nursing homes. This policy will be effective Friday at 5pm. The state is also asking nursing homes to set up skyping and other online communication capacity so families can tele-visit their loved ones. Additionally, the state will require health screenings for all nursing home workers each day when they enter a facility and require them to wear surgical masks to guard against any potential asymptomatic spread.

In order to increase testing capacity, the State is contracting with BioReference Laboratories to run an additional 5,000 tests per day on top of what the state is already doing. These additional 5,000 tests per day will come online next week. This additional testing capacity is on top of that of the 28 private labs the Governor announced are partnering with the state in the coming days and weeks. Additionally, the Governor announced the first public drive-through testing facility on the east coast will start testing people tomorrow in New Rochelle. Testing will be done by appointment only. New Rochelle residents who have been quarantined will be tested first. 

Finally, the Governor confirmed 109 additional cases of novel coronavirus, bringing the statewide total to 325 confirmed cases in New York State. Of the 325 total individuals who tested positive for the virus, the geographic breakdown is as follows:

Albany County: 1 (1 new)

Broome County: 1 (1 new)

Delaware County: 1 (1 new)

Dutchess County: 1 (1 new)

Herkimer County: 1 (1 new)

Monroe County: 1 (1 new)

Nassau County: 41 (13 new)

New York City: 95 (43 new)

Orange County: 1 (1 new)

Rockland County: 7 (1 new)

Saratoga County: 3 (1 new)

Suffolk County: 20 (14 new)

Ulster County: 4 (3 new)

Westchester County: 148 (27 new)

“The spread of this coronavirus is not going to stop on its own, and we know that mass gatherings have been hotspots for the virus to infect large numbers of people quickly,” Governor Cuomo said.”To help contain it, we are instituting limits on large events as well as new measures to protect our most vulnerable populations — including people in nursing homes — and preparing our healthcare system to be able to deal with any future capacity issues. While the context is key and the anxiety is outpacing the facts of this situation, we will continue taking aggressive action to protect public health and prepare for any future spread of this virus.”  

“Our number one priority is protecting the public health and every action the Governor and the State of New York have taken thus far have been in furtherance of that goal,” State Health Department Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker said. “Public health experts have been clear that limiting large public gatherings where there is potential for close contact is a critical way to slow the spread of this virus. This regulation will help keep people healthy and safe.”

The Governor also announced that the State is taking measures to create a reserve workforce of health care professionals in the event of a staffing shortage and identify state facilities that can be used as temporary hospitals. The State is asking former doctors, nurses and other health care professionals to reconnect with their former employers and offer to work on an on-call basis in the cases of a staffing shortage. The State is also identifying National Guard medics for reserved staffing and contacting medical schools to identify possible reserve health care professionals. Additionally, the Department of Health is accelerating regulations to get more health care personnel trained so they can work in other areas.

For all schools in communities with the highest rates of positive cases, the state will be taking proactive steps to implement protocols that limit mass contact. Today the Governor announced SUNY Albany will cancel in person classes for the rest of the semester effective tomorrow after a positive case was confirmed today.

Additionally, any business that cannot accommodate rigorous cleaning standards should contact Empire State Development at (212) 803-3100 for a close order.

To Help Stem Coronavirus Spread, Counter Price-Gouging NYS To Provide Hand Sanitizer for Free

Governor Andrew Cuomo tours Northwell Health Laboratories on Long Island to urge CDC to allow private labs to test for coronavirus using automated systems to better monitor and contain the spread of COVID-19 © Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

During a novel coronavirus briefing, Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today announced the state will provide alcohol-based hand sanitizer to New Yorkers free of charge. To help combat price-gouging and ensure New Yorkers have access to this vital prevention method, the state will produce up to 100,000 gallons of hand sanitizer each week in 1.7 oz., 7 oz. and gallon bottles. The hand sanitizer will be made available to residents free of charge, and distribution will be prioritized by the most impacted and high risk communities, including the New Rochelle community, and state agencies, including the MTA.

Governor Cuomo also confirmed 37 additional cases of novel coronavirus in New York State since his last update from Sunday, bringing the statewide total to 142 confirmed cases.

The Governor also announced the New York State Department of Health will work with the New York State Education Department to issue guidance for schools with students, teachers or other staff who test positive for novel coronavirus. Under the policy, schools will close for an initial 24-hour period if a student or a teacher or any other staff at the school test positive for the novel coronavirus. This will allow the school to undergo disinfection, and for the State to perform an assessment of the situation and make a determination going forward in that particular school district.

Additionally, the Governor will send a program bill to the legislature today to provide paid sick leave to working New Yorkers and specifically protect those who are required to stay home from work because they are being isolated or quarantined as a result of the novel coronavirus.

“As the number of confirmed cases of the coronavirus continues to rise, unscrupulous retailers are exploiting New Yorkers’ anxieties about the virus and charging exorbitant prices for hand sanitizer and other similar products,” Governor Cuomo said. “To solve this problem, the state is producing and deploying hand sanitizer to high impact areas as well as schools, the MTA and other government agencies because you can’t get it on the market and the product that is available is very expensive. The biggest problem we have in this situation is fear, not the virus itself, and I’m once again reminding everyone to focus on the facts because the facts do not warrant the level of anxiety we are seeing.”

Of the 142 total individuals in New York State who tested positive for the virus, the geographic breakdown is as follows:

Westchester: 98 (16 new cases)

New York City: 19 (7 new cases)

Nassau: 17 (12 new cases)

Rockland: 4 (2 new cases)

Saratoga: 2

Suffolk: 1

Ulster: 1

DOCCS, through its correctional industries entity known as Corcraft, will produce an alcohol-based formula recognized by the World Health Organization and has begun production at Great Meadow Correctional Facility in Comstock, Washington County, this week. Through this ongoing effort, the Department will be able to produce up to 100,000 gallons of hand sanitizer per week. Corcraft, which produces dozens of products, uses the manufacturing process to assist in the department’s overall mission to prepare offenders for release through skill development, work ethic, respect and responsibility.   

Local governments seeking to obtain additional stocks of hand sanitizer should work with their County’s Emergency Manager and local Health Department to submit requests directly into NY Responds, the state’s web-based system which enables both local governments and state agencies to submit and share vital emergency-related information and resource requests.

Reportedly, some retailers are charging approximately 10 times what major retailers charge for hand sanitizer. On eBay a pack of five 2.5-ounce Germ-X hand sanitizer bottles were selling for $500 – by comparison, two 30-ounce bottles of Germ-X were offered online by Walmart for less than $8.

The Department of Corrections and Community Supervision also began a new screening protocol for COVID-19 for visitors to each of the State’s 52 correctional facilities to help avoid the introduction of COVID-19 into the Department’s facilities. Upon arrival to the facility, visitors will be asked a series of questions regarding any illness or symptoms they may be currently experiencing; travel outside of the United States within the past four weeks, including that of family members; and any direct exposure to an individual diagnosed with the novel coronavirus in the past four weeks.

DOCCS Acting Commissioner Anthony J. Annucci said, “Between increased demand and the price gouging currently taking place in the market, there is a very real need for hand sanitizer for New York residents. DOCCS is proud to meet the Governor’s call to action and do our part in stemming the spread of COVID-19 across the state.”

Governor Andrew Cuomo, flanked by Dr. Howard A. Zucker, the state’s Health Commissioner, and Northwell Health’s CEO Michael J. Dowling at Northwell Health Laboratories on Long Island, urged CDC to allow private labs to test for coronavirus using automated systems to better monitor and contain the spread of COVID-19 © Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

Last night, the Governor announced that Northwell Laboratories has been authorized to test under Wadsworth’s emergency use authorization. Manual testing of 75 to 80 samples per day has begun at Northwell, but automated testing still needs to be approved by the federal administration so the lab can perform thousands of tests per day. Additionally, NY Presbyterian Hospital is ready to start running 50 to 60 tests daily once it receives federal approval for testing. The Governor again today urged the federal administration to approve the use of the state’s coronavirus test by private labs, such as NY Presbyterian.

See: Cuomo Pleads with CDC to Allow Coronavirus Testing in Private Labs to Better Monitor, Contain Spread

Prevention tips from the New York State Department of Health:

While there is currently no vaccine to prevent this virus, these simple steps can help stop the spread of this and other respiratory viruses:

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • Stay home when you are sick.
  • Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.

The Department of Health has additional information on COVID-19: https://www.health.ny.gov/diseases/communicable/coronavirus/

Cuomo Pleads with CDC to Allow Coronavirus Testing in Private Labs to Better Monitor, Contain Spread

Governor Andrew Cuomo tours Northwell Labs with Dr. Dwayne Breining, the Executive Director, Dr. Howard A. Zucker, the state’s Health Commissioner, and Northwell Health’s CEO Michael J. Dowling © Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

By Karen Rubin, News-Photos-Features.com

Update: After tour of Northwell Labs, Governor Cuomo announced FDA approval for Northwell to test novel coronavirus: “After days of advocating the FDA and the federal government to expand testing capacity for the novel coronavirus in New York State and working with Northwell and Wadsworth to expedite the process, we just received word that Northwell Laboratories has been authorized to test under Wadsworth’s emergency use authorization. Manual testing of 75 to 80 samples per day will begin at Northwell immediately, but we still need automated testing approved so we can perform thousands per day.

“While this approval is a good first step, the FDA must increase the testing capacity for the State and private labs, because the more tests we run, the more positive people we will find and the better we can control and contain the virus. It’s one thing for the federal government not to have the testing capacity in place themselves – that was bad enough – but there’s no excuse for them not to be authorizing existing labs to do the work.” 

New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo took the Center for Disease Control and federal government to task for failing to authorize private laboratories to test for the coronavirus, and for failing to authorize automated testing which could increase exponentially the number of people tested.

Testing is critical to finding people infected with the coronavirus in order to contain the spread of the infection, he said during a tour of Northwell Health Laboratories on Long Island, where as many as 1000 tests could be done a day using state-of-the-art automated testing devices which can analyze as many as 120 samples at one time.

Northwell’s laboratory is the most sophisticated lab in New York State and one of the most advanced in the nation. But  as yet, CDC  has not authorized private labs to do the tests, and has not authorized the automated testing systems that Northwell has, Cuomo said.

Governor Andrew Cuomo, flanked by Dr. Howard A. Zucker, the state’s Health Commissioner, and Northwell Health’s CEO Michael J. Dowling at Northwell Health Laboratories on Long Island, urged CDC to allow private labs to test for coronavirus using automated systems to better monitor and contain the spread of COVID-19 © Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

“CDC has not authorized the use of this lab, which is just outrageous and ludicrous,” the Governor scolded. “CDC, wake up, let the state’s test. Let private labs test. Let’s increase as quickly as possible our testing capacity so we identify the positive people so we can isolate them and we’re successful in our containment.”

The state is “continuing to test people and are working with hospitals and local governments to give them the resources they need to contain the spread of this virus,” Governor Cuomo said. “We mobilized quickly but the federal government has been slow off the mark and they continue to be slow. That’s unacceptable – we need them to approve these private labs today so we can stay ahead of this evolving situation. Worse than the virus right now is the fear pandemic – and getting these additional facilities online will ensure we have more facts that will help keep people calm.”

The Northwell Lab on Long Island would be the first private lab in the state to handle coronavirus testing.

“This is an extraordinary facility,” the Governor said, flanked by his state Health Commissioner Howard A. Zucker, and Northwell Health CEO Michael J. Dowling.

“We are trying to contain spread of virus and to do that, we are testing as many as possible, to  find the positives and isolate them.” If the spread of infection is not contained, he warned, more disastrous measures, such as China and Italy have been forced to undertake – massive quarantines of millions of people – “would be very disruptive to society and the economy.”

Cuomo said that the level of fear surrounding coronavirus (the disease associated with the virus is COVID-19) is unwarranted. “There is more fear, anxiety than facts would justify. This isn’t Ebola, or SARS. This is a virus we have a lot of information on. Johns Hopkins has been tracking 100,000 cases and what happens.”

Most people who become infected will experience mild symptoms like a cold or flu and can recover at home. But for vulnerable populations – the elderly, people who have medical conditions – the disease is dangerous and can be deadly.

The best “weapon” against the disease is to reduce situations that create density.

Cuomo said he is speaking with business leaders across the state to encourage them to offer liberal sick leave so that people who are sick, who feel symptoms, stay home but are still paid; he also is encouraging businesses as well as state and local government offices,  to stagger workers in shifts if possible; and to allow work-at-home where feasible.

Individuals also have a role in keeping themselves safe, he said – wash hands frequently, don’t shake hands, just as in any flu season. He advises people who take mass transit to let a train pass if the cars are too packed, and to move to less crowded cars.  “Reduce density, proximity.”

The single best thing government can do is to test. “The more positives we identify, the more we can isolate to stop the spread.”

The Governor confirmed 16 additional cases of novel coronavirus in New York State since his last update yesterday, bringing the statewide total to 105 confirmed cases on Sunday morning. Of the new cases, 12 are in Westchester County, one in New York City in the Bronx, one in Nassau, one in Suffolk, and one in Ulster.

Of the 105 total individuals in New York State who tested positive for the virus, 82 are in Westchester; 12 are in New York City; five are in Nassau; one in Suffolk; two in Rockland; one in Ulster and two in Saratoga counties.

Cuomo criticized the CDC for being unprepared, even as the outbreak became clear in China by December (“It is delusional not to expect people to come from China”), and only recently allowing states to do their own testing. New York has the Wadsworth lab, but now is asking the CDC to authorize the state to utilize private labs, like Northwell Laboratories.

Technicians at the $60 million Northwell Laboratory on Long Island, the most sophisticated private lab in the state and one of the most advanced in the country. © Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

“Not to be using this laboratory, not to be using the other private labs around the state makes no sense whatsoever. Not to be using automated testing, which means rather than a person manually handling a test tube and a test, the machines we saw that handle 120 samples at a time place them in a machine, the machine runs the test. Of course you should be using that technology. And it’s one thing for the CDC not to have the testing capacity in place themselves, but that was bad enough. For the CDC not to be authorizing existing labs to do the work, there’s no excuse for that.” 

Cuomo also criticized the federal government for creating unnecessary confusion, which fuels fear. “The President of the United States says anyone who wants a test can have a test. Vice President of the United States says we don’t have the testing capacity. People say, how can you say both things? You can’t say both things. We don’t have the testing capacity that we need. Not everyone who wants a test can have a test.

“We have to prioritize the people who get the tests to fit our capacity, right. You can’t ask more people to come in and get tested until you know you have the capacity to test them. The number of people coming in for a test must equal the number of tests you can perform. That’s why in New York we have a standard protocol that’s in place all across the state, prioritizing who can get tested to fit our testing capacity. 

A state of the art machine like this at Northwell Labs, Long Island, automates the analysis of 120 test samples at one time, vastly increasing the capacity to test individuals suspected of carrying the coronavirus © Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

“Once we increase our testing capacity and we can perform more tests, then we can change the prioritization of those people coming in for the tests. We have a statewide protocol because we don’t want people shopping tests. I don’t want someone from Nassau driving to Suffolk, driving to Manhattan, driving to Westchester because you have different rules on who can get a test. Everyone, everywhere in this state has the same rules, doesn’t matter where you go. Hopefully, the CDC acts responsibly and acts quickly and we raise the capacity, we bring a great facility like this online with the automated testing. We can then get testing per day to about 1000 tests. And then we can calibrate the prioritization to the capacity.”

The $60 million Northwell Laboratory on Long Island, is the most sophisticated private lab in the state and one of the most advanced in the country. © Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

 The Governor also addressed price gouging, which is happening across the state and the nation, “symptomatic of fear.”

“It’s unethical, exploitative of fear and illegal,” he said. “To make a few extra bucks on hand sanitizer, they would jeopardize their license to do business. There is an increased penalty for price gouging.” He said that consumers can call a hot line, that state police  are investigating and the state Attorney General has the power to prosecute.

The state’s Division of Consumer Protection has created an online consumer complaint form, where New Yorkers can report suspected price gouging or concerns about improper delivery of quantity. (Consumers who wish to file a complaint can visit https://www.dos.ny.gov/consumerprotection/.)

Also, travel insurance companies and travel agents will offer New York residents and businesses the ability to purchase coverage when making travel plans that would allow them to cancel a trip for any reason, including for reasons related to COVID-19.

The Department of Financial Services issued guidance allowing travel agents and travel insurers to offer this type of coverage after DFS received consumer complaints that such polices were not available in New York State. This new action is designed to provide reassurance to New York businesses and residents who are seeking to make plans that may involve travel to locations that are not currently under travel advisories due to COVID-19.

Six global and national insurance companies have agreed to offer “cancel for any reason” coverage to travelers, including: Allianz, Nationwide, Starr Indemnity, Berkshire, Crum & Forster, and Zurich.

DFS also directed New York State travel insurance issuers to proactively reach out to individuals and businesses who bought their policies to let them know what is covered. (Read a copy of the DFS Insurance Guidance Letter)

Yesterday, the Governor announced that he declared a state of emergency to help New York more quickly and effectively contain the spread of the virus. The state of emergency declaration allows, among other things:

Expedited procurement of cleaning supplies, hand sanitizer and other essential resources

Allowing qualified professionals other than doctors and nurses to conduct testing

Expedited procurement of testing supplies and equipment

Expedited personnel onboarding

Expedited leasing of lab space

Allowing EMS personnel to transport patients to quarantine locations other than just hospitals

Providing clear basis for price gouging and enforcement investigation   

 “We do not want to have to do massive close downs, massive quarantines, and we don’t want members of the vulnerable population getting sick. That is why we are doing what we are doing,” Cuomo said.

“So in sum, CDC let’s move, authorize the State to authorize private labs, get this most sophisticated lab in the State, one of the most sophisticated labs in the country, get this lab to work. Why you wouldn’t makes absolutely no sense.

“And to New Yorkers, we understand the facts. Keep this in perspective. We don’t want a lot of people getting this virus. We don’t want to take more drastic measures. But, if you get the virus, you will get sick, you will recover, you most likely won’t even go to the hospital. And the only the people who we really have to worry about are the vulnerable populations – senior citizens, people with compromised immune systems.

“So keep it all in perspective. I know there’s a whole frenzy about it, the facts do not justify the frenzy, period. The biggest problem we have in this situation is fear, not the virus. The virus we can handle. It’s the fear. And the fear is just unwarranted.”

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