Testing provides clearer picture of virus spread; New program helps food banks and farmers

Photo by Mike Groll, Office of the Governor
Gov. Andrew Cuomo provides a coronavirus update during a press conference in the Red Room at the State Capitol on Monday, April 27, 2020.

Additional testing of thousands of randomly selected New Yorkers shows that 14.9 percent of the population has the COVID-19 antibodies.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced the state is expanding its antibody testing survey to get more data about the spread of infections among frontline workers and first responders.

On Monday, state health officials began testing 1,000 New York City Fire Department officers and 1,000 New York City Police Department officers from across all five boroughs, and this week will test 3,000 health care workers and 1,000 transit workers for antibodies.

The state is also opening five new drive-through testing facilities in Monroe, Erie, Broome, Niagara and Oneida Counties.

“We’ve now tested 7,500 people statewide, so that’s a very significant number and it gives us a snapshot of where we are,” Cuomo said. “You look at the different pictures and you have a movie … and you can track what is happening.

“With 7,500 people the percent statewide that’s positive is 14.9. When we tested five days ago it was 13.9. [From] 13.9 to 14.9, one point, statistically it’s in the margin of error. I’d like to see the margin go the other way.”

Cuomo has said that the key to re-opening the economy is to understand how many New Yorkers have already had COVID-19 and how likely they are to contracting it again, if travel, shopping and dining restrictions are lifted.

The newest round of testing shows that males are more likely to test positive than females — 16.9 compared to 13.1, respectively.

The test results also confirm that New York City has been the hardest hit region of the state, with 24.7 percent testing positive. That is followed by Westchester and Rockland Counties with 15.1 percent testing positive and Long Island with 14.4 testing positive for COVID-19.

The rest of the state shows 3.2 percent of the population testing positive for the antibody.

“When you see 1.2 percent in the North County, 2.6 Mohawk Valley, Capital District, you see a much different situation than you’re looking at in New York City where you’re in the 20s. Different situations, different strategy going forward.”

On April 25, the state also expanded diagnostic testing criteria to include all first responders, health care workers and essential employees, even if they aren’t symptomatic.

“We want to know exactly where those frontline workers are if they have been infected. We want to make sure people are getting help and we want to know exactly what happened,” Cuomo said.

“We’ll also be [testing] 3,000 healthcare workers, these are hospital staff, nursing staff, doctors who are in the emergency rooms, to find out their situation. And we’ll be [testing] 1,000 transit workers. These are the bus drivers, the train operators, who keep the public transit system working and we want to do testing to find out how they’re doing.”

As of Sunday night at midnight, there are 12,819 hospitalizations, 4,157 of those in ICU beds, and 3,485 intubations, all of which are down from the day before. The total discharged from hospitals so far is 46,341 people.

The total number of diagnostic tests performed on New Yorkers is 826,095 with 291,996 positive cases. The number of positive cases increased by 3,951 from the day before.

The governor also announced new initiatives to help food banks in New York, which are facing a shortage of donations, volunteers and supplies, combined with a surging demand.

Food banks in New York City are seeing a 100 percent increase in demand, and Westchester food pantries are seeing a 200 percent increase in demand. Due to the overwhelming need for support, Governor Cuomo announced that he is going to commit $25 million to emergency funding for food banks.

Because restaurants and schools have been closed, some farms that produce milk and dairy items have had to dump unsold products. To combat this, and to help food banks at the same time, Cuomo announced the Nourish New York Initiative.

This initiative will purchase food and products from upstate farms and direct the food to different food banks across the state. He also stated that the state is partnering with New York state dairy producers to process excess milk into products, such as yogurt or cheese to be distributed to food banks across the state.

“This is just total waste, to me, we have people downstate who need food. We have farmers upstate who can’t sell their products. We have to put those two things together. It’s just common sense but we have to make that marriage between product upstate and need downstate,” Cuomo said. “We’re also immediately to stop this dumping of milk going to work with industries in our state, we can use the milk and get it to people who need it. So I want to thank these companies who will be working with us to buy the excess, you know, yogurt, cheese sour cream, cheese, and then we’ll give it to the state.”

Cuomo also announced on Monday that the temporary hospitals that were built in response to the COVID-19 outbreak will remain open and ready in case the virus returns in the fall, or spreads in conjunction with the flu.

In partnership with the federal government, the medical centers that were built for COVID-19 patients will be on hold for the fall flu season or for a possible second wave of coronavirus cases. The downstate hospitals are located at the Westchester County Center, the Javits Center, SUNY Old Westbury and SUNY Stony Brook.

“So, the facilities that were built, I spoke to the President about leaving them in place until we get through the flu season, God forbid we need extra capacity again. I don’t want to ask the federal government to build capacity, then take it down and then wind up in another problem area,” Cuomo said.