ALBANY — New York companies are helping address the tight supply of COVID-19 test kits, with rush production and donation of 500,000 units statewide.
Pharmaceutical company Regeneron is doing much of the work at its East Greenbush production campus; Corning is donating 100,000 test tubes and providing 500,000 at reduced cost.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced the move during his daily briefing on the pandemic Wednesday, a bit of good news in a press conference that also included a 1,297 new patients hospitalized and 400 more deaths in the preceding 24 hours.
“We’re still on our way up the mountain,” Cuomo said.
The confirmed case count statewide rose to 83,712 by late morning, with rural Yates County in the Finger Lakes region the last county in the state with no known COVID-19 patients.
Of the 12,226 hospitalized Wednesday, 3,022 were in intensive care units. A total of 1,941 had died and 6,142 recovered sufficiently to be discharged from the hospital.
Cuomo spoke of the continuing difficulty getting people to stay more than six feet apart to reduce the transmission of the disease, particularly in densely populated New York City. He ordered playgrounds there shut down because the message was being ignored.
A reporter asked Cuomo about the irony of New Yorkers standing shoulder-to-shoulder Monday, cheering the arrival of a 1,000-bed U.S. Navy hospital ship that President Trump sent to help deal with the rapid spread of the virus in New York City. Cuomo said these clusters need to be broken up.
“The NYPD has to get more aggressive. Period,” he said. “How reckless and irresponsible and selfish for people not to do it on their own?”
Other points made by Cuomo on Wednesday:
- One month and one day after the first COVID-19 case was confirmed in New York, accumulating data continue to alter the modeled projections of when the number of infections will peak in New York; they now range from early April to mid-May. The state is going with a late April estimate at this point. The projections range from 75,000 hospitalizations at peak if New Yorkers practice good social distancing to 110,000 if they don’t.
- The New York State Police will backfill if needed for the New York Police Department, which saw 15 percent of its officers call in sick Tuesday. Troopers’ jurisdiction includes the city; officers in municipal police agencies upstate do not have jurisdiction in the city but could be deputized in a crisis. (However, media reports out of New York City are indicating a lull in many crimes as the pandemic worsens there.)
- About 82,000 retired or out-of-state health care professionals have heeded the call and are offering assistance to New York City-area hospitals where medical personnel are physically and emotional exhausted, and in some cases sick themselves with COVID-19. The hospitals are vetting these volunteers’ skills and reaching out as needed. This is important, Cuomo said: “You will run out of staff before you run out of beds.”
Cuomo gave a shout-out during his briefing Wednesday to Regeneron, which has its headquarters and research facilities in Westchester County but has a large and a growing manufacturing campus just across the Hudson River from the Capitol, where Cuomo was speaking.
“On the good news front, we have new testing available in New York,” he said. “Regeneron, which is a great New York company, has created 500,000 testing kits at no charge. Thank you, Regeneron. And they are distributing them, of course across the state. Corning, another great company, has donated 100,000 tubes, and 500,000 tubes, at reduced cost.”
The test kits are not complicated — two swabs, liquid medium and tubes to hold the liquid — but they must be made exactly to specification to be accurate, and shortages developed quickly as the COVID-19 crisis began in earnest. Community testing begun by Capital Region hospitals, for example, soon had to be halted to conserve supplies.
Regeneron said Wednesday its role is to manufacture the viral transport media, which preserves the sample from the patient until it can be tested for the virus in a lab setting, and then assemble the test kit with other companies’ swabs and tubes.
In just a few days, the company created a formula to meet the state’s specifications, obtained the necessary components, and assembled an on-site team from its East Greenbush workforce, many of whom had been working from home.
It got more volunteers than it actually needed; working after hours and on weekends, they had assembled more than 100,000 units by Tuesday, and will continue until they’ve surpassed 500,000.
The employees are being paid but Regeneron is not; the roughly $1 million cost of the crash project is an in-kind contribution.
In other COVID-19 developments Wednesday in and near the Capital Region:
- Albany County recorded its second COVID-related death, a woman in her 60s with multiple underlying health issues. As of Wednesday afternoon, the county had 240 confirmed cases; Fulton County two; Montgomery County seven; Rensselaer County 43; Saratoga County 122; Schenectady County 93; and Schoharie County eight.
- Dutchess County, 60 miles south and with roughly the same population as Albany County, has jumped from 100 to 547 confirmed cases in just nine days.
- Saratoga Springs closed all city playgrounds and basketball courts, though the city parks remain open. “With the basketball courts and the playgrounds, people were gathering around in a way that just wasn’t compatible with social distancing and we felt we had no choice but to close them, but otherwise all the parks are open,” said city Public Safety Commissioner Robin Dalton.
- Montgomery County Sheriff Jeffery T. Smith announced the department is collecting food and pet food for distribution to local food banks and animal shelters for those who need help during the crisis. Residents can contact the Sheriff’s Office at [email protected] or 518-853-5500 to arrange a pickup at the foot of their driveway or walk. The donors can wave, and the deputies will honk their thanks, but they will need to keep apart.
- The Albany-based Restaurant Operators’ Cooperative, a group-purchasing cooperative of 230-plus restaurants and hotels with $50 million in annual purchases, moved the rebate schedule forward from May and sent checks totaling over $1.1 million to its members, who operate in one the hardest-hit sectors of the economy.