New York State will take steps to increase COVID-19 testing that will prioritize people working on the front lines, such as healthcare workers, first responders and law enforcement, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Saturday.
Cuomo said he planned on signing an executive order that will allow the state’s roughly 5,000 independent pharmacists to collect diagnostic tests, which they will then forward onto one of 300 public and private labs in the state.
The diagnostic tests, which determines whether a person is currently infected, will be dramatically increased for firefighters, paramedics and EMTs, police and corrections, parole and probation officers.
“These essential workers, we want to make sure they are now eligible for tests again because they’ve been working all along, they’ve been exposed, and also because when you go into the dry cleaners, there is the person on the other side of the counter who’s interacting with dozens of people a day, so we want to make sure these people get tested,” Cuomo said.
Other essential workers, as defined by the state’s Economic Development Corporation, will also be prioritized.
The governor said with ramped up testing capacity at the labs, the state needs places to collect the samples. Pharmacies would serve as collection sites, which would then send the samples to the labs, which will conduct the tests.
“Since we now have more testing sites and more testing capacity, we can open up the eligibility for those tests,” Cuomo said.
The state has been conducting on average about 20,000 diagnostic tests a day. The goal is to double that in the upcoming weeks. Through Friday, New York has completed 777,000 tests statewide.
The governor said that accelerated antibody testing, which can show whether someone had been infected with COVID-19 and has developed antibodies, which presumably makes them immune to the virus, will be made available to members of the transit workers union, MTA employees and the ranks of the NYPD and state police.
Showing these workers appreciation by giving them priority access to the antibody tests is an important gesture since they are the ones who have continuously put their safety in peril.
“I’m sacrificing my family, at least show me support, and support is to have the equipment you need, you have the tools that you need,” he said. “We’re going to get you the testing on a priority basis because you deserve it.”
Including transit workers in the top priority comes as MTA Chairman and CEO Patrick J. Foye said Saturday that there have been 84 deaths from COVID-19 among the agency’s ranks.
On Friday, another 437 New Yorkers died from the virus, bringing the statewide death toll to 16,599, according to the state Department of Health. Of those deaths, 920 were Westchester residents with another 42 in Putnam County.
Cuomo said that while new COVID-19 hospitalizations fell Friday to a little more than 1,100 cases, he wants to see that number lowered to between 200 and 400 a day.
He called on the state’s residents to continue observing the stay-at-home order and that it hasn’t been for naught.
“What you’re doing is actually saving lives,” Cuomo said. “It’s not rhetorical, it’s not