ALBANY — The state Department of Health is sending an emergency response team to Western New York, where positive COVID-19 tests continue to come in at a higher rate than expected.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced the move Thursday. Eight mobile testing sites will be set up, each capable of providing test results in an hour, giving health investigators a nearly real-time snapshot of what’s happening in that community.
These flareups happen periodically across the state. The numbers of sick people are tiny compared with mid-April, when the pandemic peaked in New York state, but they stand out as high because the statewide infection rate is so low right now.
Albany had one such uptick after a big Fourth of July party. Schenectady County is having one now, due mainly to social and family contact.
Schenectady County reported 20 new cases Wednesday for a positive test rate of 2.5 percent. That rate is substantially higher than every county in the Western New York region except one: 4.4 percent in Chautauqua County, where there’s an infection cluster at a food-processing plant.
There’s also Essex County, where only 119 residents have been confirmed infected through the entire pandemic. Sixty of those positive test results have come in the last 10 days. A single nursing home is believed to be the center of the cluster.
The public health strategy is to understand the cause of these clusters and stop them from growing, Cuomo said.
A Buffalo News reporter asked Cuomo on Thursday when the state would know if Western New York is in danger.
The eight rapid test sites will give health officials a better idea, the governor said.
“We’ll know the same day what’s happening,” he said. “Depending on what we see, we’ll act accordingly.”
Cuomo has ordered a slowdown at times on reopening certain aspects of the economy, but has not at any point rolled back the reopening.
For the state as a whole, Wednesday was the 20th day in a row when the positive test rate was below 1 percent.
Cuomo said rogue restaurateurs and bar owners seem to be getting the message about enforcing infection control protocols such as social distancing within their establishments. The rule breakers were always a small minority of the industry, he said, and there are even fewer now that state inspectors have been doing mass inspections in recent weeks.
On Wednesday, the state task force visited 1,000 establishments and only two were in violation, the governor said.
Cuomo continued his attack on the federal government Thursday, particularly the Centers for Disease Control and the Department of Justice.
The DOJ on Wednesday took steps toward an investigation of New York and three other states with Democratic governors and high nursing home death tolls, requesting extensive data on all public nursing homes in those states.
It’s a political attack, Cuomo said, noting that the Republican National Convention is underway and that he and one of the other governors targeted — Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan — both spoke at the Democratic National Convention.
“[Attorney General William] Barr cannot spell the word ‘justice,’” Cuomo said. “He doesn’t even feign to be impartial or a real attorney general.”
The data being sought covers only the five nursing homes New York state operates, Cuomo said, not the other 600 private and public facilities, where a total of more than 6,000 elderly residents have died. The state has already provided the data and will provide it again, Cuomo said.
Meanwhile, the CDC reversed itself this week and said those in close contact with a COVID patient needn’t get tested themselves. “My opinion — many public health officials have agreed with me — is that is really bad advice and it is dumbfounding,” Cuomo said. “I believe it’s political and we’re not following it in the state of New York and I want to make sure all people are aware of that.”