ALBANY — COVID-19 testing began Monday at a new state-run drive-through test site on the University at Albany campus Monday morning.
Patrick Murphy, state commissioner of homeland security and emergency services, spoke to reporters Monday at the new test station, which is the state’s first in this area and follows the model that has been used at multiple sites in the New York City area, the region hit hardest by the pandemic in the nation so far.
“Across New York,” he said, “we’ve had testing of individuals that have been symptomatic or otherwise exposed. The site here today is an extension of that continued testing.”
Priority for testing will go to first responders and medical professionals, then members of the general public with high-risk profiles showing symptoms of COVID-19. People who want to be tested just for peace of mind are discouraged from seeking tests.
Limited availability of test kits has crimped testing efforts in Albany County and elsewhere. There are adequate supplies to run the new UAlbany drive-thru for the foreseeable future, but not with unlimited testing, Murphy said.
The site can perform hundreds of tests a day, and similar facilities downstate have done as many as 1,000 in a single day, he said.
With six lanes for tests, if people arrive at their scheduled times, it runs very smoothly, officials say. Motorists stay in their vehicles with the windows up until their turn, then roll down their window, answer the questions and prepare for the nasal swab.
“It kind of tickles as much as anything when it goes in but it’s not painful,” Murphy said.
The UAlbany site is a joint venture of the SUNY system, Albany Medical Center, St. Peter’s Health Partners, state Department of Health, state Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Services, and National Guard.
Murphy said the point is not so much to tally up people with confirmed cases — Albany County has the most in the Capital Region — but rather to identify those who are sick and decrease their risk of transmitting the disease to other people.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo has warned repeatedly about this risk of transmission. On Monday, he extended for two more weeks — to April 29 — the restrictive provisions of NYS on Pause, including mandatory closure of schools and nonessential businesses so as to keep people too far apart to share germs. For the same reason, he also increased maximum fines for violations of the social distancing protocol from $500 to $1,000.
Also Monday morning, 16,837 people were hospitalized with the virus statewide while the cumulative totals since March 1 reached 130,689 confirmed infected and 4,758 dead.
There is some cause for optimism: The number of new hospitalizations and new placements in intensive care have slowed, and the number of new deaths has been steady for a couple of days. That could be an indication that the peak of the crisis is arriving in New York state, or that the spike of the peak has been smoothed out.
Social distancing efforts may be paying off, Cuomo said. But the milder weather presents an added challenge.
“It’s individual behavior that’s been problematic over the weekend,” Cuomo said. “I get that it was a nice day and the weather was good and people have been cooped up. Now is not the time to slack off what we’re doing.”
Asked by a reporter about tight-knit Orthodox Jewish communities in two hard-hit areas — Brooklyn and Rockland County — continuing to hold weddings and funerals with hundreds of attendees, Cuomo said they should be stopped.
“I don’t care if you are orthodox Jewish, Catholic Christian, Muslim, I don’t care what, it’s not about religious observation,” he said.
“What right do you have to act irresponsibly in a way that could get you sick or get someone else sick? None of us has the right to be reckless. As a society the risk is too great.”
He added that local governments had the power to break up such events.
“Enforce the law,” Cuomo said.
Cuomo’s announcement Friday that he’d have the National Guard move ventilators from upstate hospitals with few COVID-19 patients to overwhelmed downstate hospitals appeared to have gone nowhere Monday, following criticism and resistance from upstate leaders.
During his daily briefing for the press Monday, Cuomo skirted what appeared to be a significant break in his effort to unify the state and its resources to best fight the virus.
“We are moving ventilators now among the [downstate] system,” he said. Thousands of devices to help people breathe and keep them alive in the throes of COVID19 — both ventilators and less-ideal machines originally designed for other purposes — are being shifted around as needed within New York City-area hospitals, he said.
Cuomo added that he understood the reluctance of hospitals to share and also defended his attempts to move resources.
“If they had a wish list, everybody would want a stockpile and a reserve in their own hospital,” he said. “I get that. We don’t have that luxury.”
Late Monday, the Healthcare Association of New York State said it had coordinated a voluntary registry through which upstate hospitals would list equipment they had and could share if needed, but would keep until needed.
In other developments Monday:
- During his daily update, Albany County Executive Daniel McCoy was joined by the Rev. Chris DeGiovine of St. Matthew’s Church and Rabbi Roy Feldman of Congregation Beth Abraham-Jacob to discuss the importance of following state guidelines on mass gatherings, social distancing and self-isolation ahead of Passover and Easter. Failure to socially distance has been a source of continual frustration for McCoy — his county is the most-populous in the Capital Region and also leads in confirmed infections (319) and deaths (nine total, six of them county residents).
- Elsewhere in the Capital Region, Fulton County had 11 confirmed cases as of Monday, Montgomery County 15, Rensselaer County 62, Saratoga County 153, Schenectady County 138 and Schoharie County 11.
- CAP COM Cares Foundation, charitable arm of the Colonie-based credit union, announced a $50,000 donation to the Regional Food Bank of Northeast New York, which is facing increased demand for its services. The donation is on top of the $450,000 the foundation previously slated for donation to hundreds of community organizations this year.
- Schenectady County closed down its Plotter Kill and Indian Kill preserves. The preserves are popular with hikers, especially on beautiful days, and their continued operation would potentially run counter to the effort to keep distance between people and limit transmission of the disease, county officials said.
- New York State United Teachers — best known for representing hundreds of thousands of teachers but also has among its ranks more than 16,000 healthcare professionals — has begun taking donations for the NYSUT Disaster Relief Fund, a charitable organization that has provided more than 4,000 grants statewide since it was created in 2005. The money will provide personal protective equipment, food and supplies to health care professionals statewide.
- Feed Albany announced it has raised over $20,000 through its GoFundMe Page and secured a $5,000 grant from Capitalize Albany. The coalition of Capital Region business owners and officials was formed to provide at-risk and needy individuals with packaged meal solutions, hiring unemployed restaurant workers to prepare and distribute the food.
- Regional outdoor recreation and lifestyle retailer Alpin Haus is joining the national Goggles for Docs campaign to provide protective eyewear for healthcare professionals. Anyone with used winter sports goggles may donate them at the Clifton Park or Amsterdam stores, where they will be disinfected and repurposed as protective gear. Alpin Haus also will donate ski and snowboard goggles from its own inventory.
- FuzeHub, the Albany-based nonprofit that helps connect small and mid-sized New York manufacturing companies with resources and expertise, announced a competitive grant program that will award $400,000 in manufacturing assistance for COVID-related products and supplies.
- Yankee Distillers in Clifton Park is selling a different kind of alcohol out of its tasting room — its first batch of hand sanitizer. A 16-ounce pump bottle is $10 and a 64-ounce refill bottle is $35, or customers can bring empty bottles and refill them at 50 cents an ounce.
- Niskayuna-based GE Research sent out 28,000 gloves it would normally use for clean-room semiconductor and microelectronics fabrication work to people working on the front lines during the pandemic in New York state. A third of the gloves went to Albany Medical Center and Ellis Medicine in Schenectady. The rest went to the 156 members of GE Healthcare’s New York Field Services Team who are working around the clock to keep critical equipment such as ventilators, CT scanners and mobile X-ray units running for hospitals.
- If you’re in Glens Falls on Tuesday afternoon, join the procession driving past Glens Falls Hospital and lay on your horn. City police, firefighters and residents will join to Honk For Heroes in honor of the personnel regionwide working long hours at risk of illness during the COVID-19 crisis. The parade of vehicles will gather at the Queensbury Hotel at 3:45, travel down Ridge Street to the circle, then proceed up Hudson Avenue past the hospital.