As active COVID-19 cases soar to pandemic highs, Westchester County is increasing its testing for residents who show symptoms or have been exposed to someone who has tested positive for the virus.
County Executive George Latimer said Monday that Westchester is partnering with Quadrant Biosciences to make free PCR tests available at the County Center in White Plains for those who most urgently need to learn whether they are positive. Testing will begins Wednesday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and continue on Thursday from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Testing will then resume on weekdays starting next Monday, Jan. 3 from 12 to 4 p.m. then continue from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. each weekday through at least Jan. 11.
Appointments are mandatory and can be made up to three days in advance at www.westchestergov.com/health.
“The demand for testing will exceed the amount of tests that we have available, but the tests that we’re given we’ll give them to everybody that we can up to the satisfaction of the amount that we have available,” Latimer said.
The county could not immediately provide how many tests may be available each day.
Over the past couple of weeks there have been long lines outside testing sites, with some residents unable to get the PCR test or forced to wait days for an appointment.
Latimer stressed that what the County Center will offer is meant to help those who are in the most need of a test – only those who have symptoms or were exposed to a person who is a confirmed positive.
“What we are witnessing is a nationwide explosion in the incidents of active cases as well as a nationwide explosion…in demand for testing,” he said. “No matter what system you’re looking at the demand has far exceeded the supply of tests nationwide.”
The announcement came after Latimer, who along with Deputy County Executive Ken Jenkins returned to work after their own bouts with COVID-19, presented the explosive rate at which the virus is spreading. As of Sunday, Westchester had 16,819 active cases, easily eclipsing the high of more than 12,000 in the early stages of the pandemic in spring 2020. Last winter’s surge, which peaked on Jan. 18, saw more than 11,500 active cases.
On Nov. 26, there were 2,078 cases. On that same day, the infection rate was 2 percent; on Sunday it reached 13.7 percent in Westchester while New York State saw a 16 percent positivity rate. Within the last week infections in the county more than doubled.
While hospitalizations and fatalities are not rising at the same rate as active cases, they have still quadrupled during the past month. On Nov. 24, the day before Thanksgiving, there were 50 COVID-19-related hospitalizations, while on Christmas Eve that number stood at 214.
There were seven deaths from COVID-19 in the month ending with Thanksgiving. Between Thanksgiving and Christmas there were 30 fatalities in the county.
Latimer did not have the latest statistics on how many unvaccinated people accounted for the latest deaths and hospitalizations, but up until the latest surge about two-thirds of those totals consisted of the unvaccinated, he said. Some of the vaccinated in those situations also have had other health issues or may not have received at least two shots.
“What we do seem to see is that those people that have been vaccinated properly, either at the two-(shot) level or at the booster level, still may get the disease but don’t suffer seriously, do not wind up being hospitalized because of the disease,” Latimer said. “So to that extent we’re somewhat encouraged, but to go up from 50 hospitalizations to 214, that number has been rising each day this week. That is of great concern to us.”
In the early weeks of the pandemic, there were about 600 hospitalizations. Last winter that number rose to more than 500.
There have been 94 percent of adults 18 years old and up in Westchester who have received at least one dose. The rate of those with two doses is at 84 percent. The county did not have the numbers on the percentage or residents who received boosters or pediatric vaccinations.
Latimer urged residents to remain vigilant, wear masks in indoor public spaces and get vaccinated or boosted.
“We have the opportunity, if we show proper discipline, if we show proper perseverance to get through this,” Latimer said. “We can have our kids in class and get the proper learning. We can continue to function without shutting down the government, without shutting down the business community, which has happened.”
Martin has more than 30 years experience covering local news in Westchester and Putnam counties, including a frequent focus on zoning and planning issues. He has been editor-in-chief of The Examiner since its inception in 2007. Read more from Martin’s editor-author bio here. Read Martin’s archived work here: https://www.theexaminernews.com/author/martin-wilbur2007/