New York State is set to begin vigorous antibody testing this week, the start of the first step of what officials hope will eventually lead to the reopening of the state’s economy.
The state has reached out to some of the top private labs in New York, such as Northwell Health, which operates 23 hospitals statewide, including Phelps and Northern Westchester.
Antibody testing is needed to discover who has been infected with COVID-19 and could likely return to work safely. Public health experts have speculated that as many as 20 to 50 percent of those who have been infected with the virus have mild symptoms or are asymptomatic.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who was joined at his briefing on Sunday by Michael Dowling, president and CEO of Northwell Health, has repeatedly urged for more help from the federal government to ramp up testing. On Saturday, the governor said that shortages in critical components to complete the antibody tests, such as swabs and reagents, are inhibiting the testing process.
Cuomo said he wants to start with a cautious reopening of the economy but doesn’t want to regress and reignite the acute public health emergency New York City and other areas experienced in late March and early April.
“The goal is to do the maximum amount of testing as we possibly can because that’s the way our economy can reopen,” Dowling said. “If you don’t do the testing, like the governor said, and you make too rash a move, open too quickly, then you walk into the scenario that you just described, and that would be one of the most dangerous things you could possibly do.”
Dowling said after the initial rollout during the upcoming week where about 2,000 daily tests will be done, Northwell’s labs will eventually be able to complete 10,000 tests a day. Northwell is just one of a group of private labs that will be able to test.
Northwell and other labs will also continue diagnostic testing to find out who is COVID-19 positive.
Word of the antibody tests came Sunday as the number of statewide COVID-19-related deaths on Saturday climbed by another 507, putting the death toll at more than 14,000. In Westchester County, there have been 743 residents along with 36 more in Putnam County, according to figures last updated on Saturday from the state Department of Health.
Despite the grim statistics, virus-related hospitalizations fell for the sixth consecutive day, to 16,213. However, Cuomo warned that New Yorkers must remain vigilant by continuing social distancing practices while the state increases testing.
“Don’t underappreciate what you did and don’t go backwards,” Cuomo said. “That would be a real mistake.”
In other actions Sunday by the governor, retired and out-of-state funeral directors will have their state licensing fast-tracked to help with the surge of deceased people that has overwhelmed some funeral homes.
Also, Cuomo was expected to sign an amended executive order that will allow anyone in the state who is licensed to officiate a marriage to do so remotely. The original order allowed only clerks to administer the vows via technology.