Westchester officials are preparing for an uptick in COVID-19 cases once mandatory testing of all nursing home patients is completed, said County Executive George Latimer.
Testing by the county Department of Health began Monday in order to learn the extent of infections among the residents in all 44 Westchester nursing homes. The county received authorization last week from New York State to administer the tests as the high number of fatalities during the pandemic has placed nursing homes everywhere under the microscope.
Latimer said since nursing homes have been hot spots for the virus, it may cause the numbers to jump. While there have been 30,708 positives out of 105,242 tests administered throughout Westchester through Wednesday, the number of active cases has steadily fallen to 4,749 from a high of about 12,000.
“If we do see some significant concerning patterns, we’ll report that to the state immediately since it is the state that has regulatory authority,” Latimer said. “We’re not going to be able to finish this in a week or two weeks but hopefully with the state, with the county and the Department of Health nurses and assistance from the nursing home staff itself, we’ll be able to complete the task.”
Significant healthcare issues among nursing home residents along with advanced age have proven to be a lethal combination during the pandemic.
Of the 1,184 virus-related deaths in Westchester, there have been 183 confirmed deaths from COVID-19 in nursing homes and another 215 presumed deaths through Wednesday, according to data from the state Department of Health.
Results from a recent three-day state study released Wednesday revealed that of more than 1,200 COVID-19-related hospitalizations, 67 percent of the patients were over 50 years old, with the highest percentages in their sixties and seventies.
However, two-thirds of those hospitalizations were from people living in their own residences, with only 18 percent coming from nursing homes.
Any new cases could have an impact on whether Westchester can meet the thresholds set forth by Gov. Andrew Cuomo this week for the first phase of a four-part reopening. In order for a region to open, it must have at least 14 days of declines in total hospitalizations and deaths on its three-day rolling average; it cannot exceed 15 new cases or five new deaths on a three-day average; there must be less than two new COVID patients per 100,000 residents; a region’s hospitals must have at least a 30 percent vacancy in total hospital beds and ICU beds; and every hospital must have at least a 90-day supply of personal protection equipment (PPE), measured at the rate the equipment was being used during the height of the crisis.
There must also be 30 tests available for every 1,000 residents per month and a baseline of 30 contact tracers for every 100,000 residents.
Westchester is in the mid-Hudson Valley region with Rockland, Putnam, Dutchess, Orange and Ulster counties. Latimer said if Westchester can limit new cases to under 200 a day, that would keep it in line to help the region move toward a Phase I reopening.
“We’re not looking at May 15 as the drop-dead date (for reopening),” he said. “We also don’t know when the state is going to start the calculation for some of these metrics.”
During a Thursday morning address to members of the Hudson Valley Gateway Chamber of Commerce, Latimer said a June 1 reopening for the region is realistic.
Statewide numbers on Thursday highlight about 8,600 total COVID-19 hospitalizations with just over 600 new cases on Wednesday. However, another 231 state residents died, pushing New York’s death toll to 20,820.