New York Focuses on Testing, Rent Relief as Toll of Virus Abates

People stand apart and wear face masks due to Covid-19 while waiting to enter a check-cashing service center on April 24 in Bushwick, Brooklyn. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)

MANHATTAN (CN) — New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced a new antibody-testing initiative for the novel coronavirus Thursday, as Governor Andrew Cuomo extended relief for those who rent their homes. 

After months as the U.S. epicenter of the pandemic, New York has been seeing gradual declines city and statewide both in the number of cases and deaths from Covid-19. Against these improvements, however, Cuomo has frequently expressed the wish for faster progress against the virus. 

Speaking in Westchester County this morning, the governor called the number of fatalities in New York state a “painful, slow level of decline.”

As of noon Thursday, state data showed 323,978 cases and 20,596 confirmed Covid-19 deaths.

Facing criticism about his efforts to help struggling renters as unemployment skyrockets, Cuomo announced three new measures Thursday. In addition to extending the state’s moratorium on evictions until Aug. 20, Cuomo said landlords are now barred from charging late-payment fees and tenants will now be able to use their security deposits to pay their rent.

De Blasio, who has already announced that 140,000 antibody tests will be available to first responders and health care workers, said Thursday the city will conduct an additional 140,000 tests on residents beginning next week. The tests will be free and available by appointment only, with preference to people who live near the testing sites in the Bronx, Queens, upper Manhattan, Staten Island and East New York, a neighborhood of Brooklyn. 

Blood tests can show whether a person has had and already recovered from Covid-19 by detecting antibodies for the virus. Some tests are more accurate than others, however, and none guarantee immunity from the disease. The city will partner with New Jersey-based BioReference Laboratories on the effort, and de Blasio said the tests will provide answers to residents while also serving as crucial data for public health officials.

“We are going to proceed energetically with antibody testing in this city as we also build up PCR testing capacity at the exact same time,” said the mayor, referring to the diagnostic tests that determine whether a person currently has the virus. Testing is “becoming more of a norm in the city every day,” he said.

As he has been doing for months, de Blasio urged President Trump to use the Defense Production Act to spur test manufacturing in the United States.

“Until that day, we will do as much of the diagnostic testing as we can and we will do as much of the antibody testing as we can,” he said.

Meanwhile, state antibody testing results show health care workers have a similar or lower infection rate, which Cuomo said is good news and demonstrates the importance of personal protective equipment. Health care workers must be protected, he said. 

In Westchester, a suburban community just north of the Bronx, 6.8% of health care workers had antibodies compared to 13.8% of the general population, Cuomo said. In the city, those numbers were 12.2% of health care workers and 19.9% of the general population, while on Long Island the percentages were roughly the same: 11.1% of health care workers and 11.4% of the general population have Covid-19 antibodies.

Cuomo has also called for more information about the people who are hospitalized with the virus. New numbers show that statewide, 20% of those hospitalized were between ages 61 and 70, while 19% were between ages 71 and 80.

Most New Yorkers admitted had been in their homes and not working outside the home, according to the Wall Street Journal, quoting Cuomo Wednesday.

People ages 21-30, 31-40 and 41-50 made up 6%, 8% and 8% of hospitalizations, respectively. Hospitalizations are rare for those under age 20, making up just 1-2% percent. 

The New York Times has also reported new research showing that a wave of infections across the country came from New York City, whose leaders waited for crucial weeks to order shutdowns in March. The city was the “primary gateway” for the rest of the country, one expert told The Times.

As of 1 p.m. on May 6, New York City now has 173,288 cases and 13,938 Covid-19 deaths, as well as an additional 5,359 deaths that are assumed to have been caused by the disease.

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