Wadsworth Lab develops easier, safer test as Cuomo extends work-from-home mandate

Photo courtesy of the New York State Department of Health
Clinical specimen testing for novel coronavirus (COVID-19) at New York State Department of Health’s Wadsworth Laboratory.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s “New York State on PAUSE” order, a 10-point plan to reduce social density and slow the spread of COVID-19, is now extended until April 15.

The extension keeps schools, restaurants, bars, salons and most other businesses closed, and non-essential workers home, for at least another two weeks.

As of Monday, New York has 66,497 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and more than 1,200 deaths. 

In an attempt to ramp up testing capacity to more quickly identify and isolate those who have the virus, the State Health Department’s Wadsworth Lab has developed a new, less invasive test that requires fewer medical personnel and conserves protective equipment. 

The new testing procedure is performed with a saliva sample and a self-administered short nasal swab in the presence of a health care professional. Officials say it will help conserve personal protective equipment for health care workers, reduce potential exposure of the virus to health care workers, and and 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.

Nasopharyngeal swabs are different from typical cotton swabs, with a specialized design that allows them to enter the upper part of the nose safely. Like other types of medical equipment, these cannot be produced as quickly as they are needed at this time. 

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.

Additionally, health care professionals can self-administer the test without another health care professional present. 

New York is preparing itself for the apex of the curve, expected in mid to late April, which will inevitably strain hospitals. 

South Beach Psychiatric Center in Staten Island, Westchester Square in the Bronx and Health Alliance in Ulster County were established as emergency hospital sites, adding over 600 new beds. Four more temporary hospital sites will also be constructed by the Army Corps of Engineers; the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal, the Aqueduct Racetrack facility in Queens, CUNY Staten Island and the New York Expo Center in the Bronx, to add 4,000 additional hospital beds.