SCHENECTADY — The state will begin widespread antibody testing this week, an effort Gov. Andrew Cuomo said will offer the first “true snapshot” of how many New Yorkers have had the coronavirus amid the ongoing pandemic.
“We have not had hard data on where we are,” Cuomo said during his daily briefing on Sunday.
The state will work with health care providers across the state to administer the tests, an effort the governor said will be the most aggressive effort to track the virus in the U.S.
Cuomo made the announcement at a Long Island research lab.
“We anticipate doing 10,000 antibody tests a day,” said Michael Dowling, president and CEO of Feinstein Institute for Medical Research.
The goal is to eventually reach 20,000, he said, “and the anticipation is we’ll be able to do hundreds of thousands of tests.”
People will initially be selected through random sampling, said Dowling, who is working with hospitals statewide to expand their capacity.
Antibody testing is not the same traditional diagnostic testing, which indicates whether a person currently has the virus.
Testing antibodies reveals if the person has previously been infected or not.
For many, the virus presents mild symptoms and can often self-resolve without the person knowing they have been infected.
Widespread testing and contact tracing is necessary to ease the state’s shutdown, Cuomo said.
But rapid testing isn’t possible without federal help, the governor said, and infection rates could spike if the state reopens too fast and without the proper precautionary measures.
“We have a very small margin of error here as we move forward,” Cuomo said.
Just hours after the announcement, people lined up inside the Price Chopper/Market 32 on Eastern Parkway in Schenectady at a state-run antibody testing site erected in the supermarket’s cafe.
Cuomo didn’t indicate testing was scheduled to begin imminently.
But the state Department of Health said patrons at grocery stores in different regions across the state will be recruited to participate as part of a survey that aims to test 3,000 people.
Price Chopper/Market32 said the testing at three stores, including their location in Malta, was a one-off and will not be home to future testing sites.
“They have not made any other arrangements for our other stores,” said Mona Golub, Price Chopper/Market 32’s vice president of public relations and consumer services. “There are no future dates or times at these stores or others of ours at this time.”
While antibody testing is still relatively new and untested, its limited usage nationwide has yielded mixed results and raised concerns over its accuracy, the New York Times reported on Sunday.
FEDS MUST HELP
So far, 617,555 New Yorkers have been tested, with 242,786 of them returning positive results for the virus.
Most cases have been in the New York City-metro area, with just 7 percent of positive cases upstate, according to state data.
Cuomo’s decision to ramp up antibody testings comes amid mounting pressure by President Trump for states to reopen their economies.
Governors haven’t made full use of coronavirus testing capacity in their states, Trump contends.
But Cuomo and a bipartisan group of governors argue they’re facing supply shortages, including chemical reagents that must be imported from China.
“I can’t do an international supply chain,” Cuomo said. “That’s where the federal government has to help, and no state can do that.”
Trump responded in real-time on Twitter as the governor delivered his comments on Sunday.
“Just like I was right on Ventilators (our Country is now the “King of Ventilators”, other countries are calling asking for help-we will!), I am right on testing,” Trump wrote. “Governors must be able to step up and get the job done. We will be with you ALL THE WAY!”
Cuomo, who sparred with the president during lengthy comments on Friday, said he agreed — but reiterated the federal government be an equal partner.
“States must do their part, and the federal government must do its part,” Cuomo said. “That’s called partnership — I agree.”
The governor on Sunday also renewed calls for Washington to allocate as much as $500 billion to state and local governments in the next federal bailout package currently being negotiated.
School districts could have their state aid slashed as much as 50 percent without a lifeline, he warned, and hospitals would also face funding cuts.
“How ludicrous would it be to now cut hospital funding from state governments?” Cuomo said.
Bloomberg reported on Sunday two senators plan on proposing a $500 billion fund as Democratic leaders and the Trump administration continue to negotiate an interim infusion of aid to small businesses.
‘PAST THE HIGH POINT’
Ramping up antibody testing comes as deaths and hospitalizations in the state are declining.
Total hospitalizations on Saturday were 16,213, the sixth consecutive day the number has dropped, while ICU admissions and intubations are also down.
The state reported 1,300 new hospitalizations on Saturday, down from a daily average of around 2,000.
To date, 13,869 New Yorkers have succumbed to the disease, including 507 on Saturday, the lowest number since April 2.
“If data holds, and this trend holds, we’re past the high point and all indications at this point is we’re on a descent,” Cuomo said. “We are on the other side of the plateau and the numbers are coming down.”
But the governor warned people must be vigilant, and the lack of testing means it’s unclear when upstate locales could start experiencing a peak.
“We’re watching for a potential spread in other parts of the state,” Cuomo said.
Albany County Executive Dan McCoy echoed those sentiments on Sunday, but hoped several new testing sites this week will offer a clearer picture of the virus’ spread in the city, including in underserved inner-city neighborhoods.
Albany County announced two new deaths on Sunday, bringing the county’s death toll 22. In Schenectady, 14 people have died, and in Saratoga, 10.