New York Is Testing More but Mass-Transit Issue Goes Unanswered

New York Stock Exchange employees wait to enter the building as the trading floor partially reopens on Tuesday. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)

MANHATTAN (CN) — New York City will more than double its diagnostic testing of the novel coronavirus over the next two months, Mayor Bill de Blasio said Tuesday, touting the 180 testing sites that will be open across the city by June’s end.

The city tests at least 20,000 New Yorkers per day for active cases of Covid-19, de Blasio said. Estimating that 50,000 people per day will be reached by Aug. 1, the mayor urged people to seek tests if they are symptomatic, work in live-in care facilities, or have been exposed to a known case. Diagnostic testing does not reveal whether a person has antibodies in their system from having previously fought off an infection of the virus.

For those without health insurance, de Blasio said, diagnostic tests are conducted at no cost. Those with health insurance will have the cost billed to their insurance company. 

New York City needs to employ 2,500 contact tracers to meet reopening metrics set by the state. Come June 1, it will have 938 case investigators and 770 monitors. 

Ted Long, the city public hospital official whom de Blasio tapped to lead tracing efforts, noted that the case investigators speak more than 40 languages among them, and 44% were hired from the lower-income and minority neighborhoods hardest hit by the virus.

The monitors have similar demographics: Long said 43% are from hard-hit communities, and that 40% speak Spanish. Background similarities are considered helpful since those who are infected might be hesitant to tell a stranger about their contacts in legally precarious groups, such as an immigrant who is undocumented or someone staying in their home outside a lease.

Contact tracers are supposed to figure out every person an infected individual could have had contact with while they were contagious. But in New York, the efforts will focus on the person’s close contacts. Rather than probing anyone who could have contracted it in a public space such as a subway car, Long said the tracing efforts will focus on those who were within six feet of an infected individual for 10 minutes or more.

“Here in New York City … we want to make sure that you’re OK at home” if you’re diagnosed with the virus, Long said. “So we’re going to ask you if you need help with utilities, food, medications: So if you could stay at home — to self-separate from your family members to keep them safe — we’re going to help you with everything else.”

One outstanding issue as New York City prepares to begin a phased reopening is its reliance on public transit. As more workers need to get to work, questions remain about whether the subway will be a safe way for them to do that. 

The New York Stock Exchange, which welcomed back some employees this morning, instructed them specifically to avoid any public transit. But it’s not clear how large numbers of people — hundreds of thousands, by de Blasio’s own estimate — will get to work otherwise, and the mayor offered no specifics Tuesday. 

He has repeatedly estimated the city will enter Phase 1 of reopening in the first or second week of June, and said Tuesday he felt confident it would meet that goal. 

Phase 1 includes construction, manufacturing, wholesale and retail for curbside pickup only.

As of a week ago, 123 employees of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, mostly bus and subway workers, had died of Covid-19. The city overall has 196,623 confirmed cases and 21,334 confirmed and probable deaths. 

Unlike other transit-dependent cities, such as Milan, Berlin and Paris, New York did not significantly build out its bike lane infrastructure during lockdown. 

“We’re dealing with the immediate crisis right now, but when we come out of this crisis we have to double down on mass transit,” de Blasio said Tuesday.

Over the weekend, the state’s death toll dropped below 100 for the first time since the crisis began.

“In this absurd new reality, that is good news,” Governor Andrew Cuomo said Tuesday, speaking at the New York Stock Exchange. “Any other time and place when we lose 73 New Yorkers it’s tragic. It’s tragic now — but relative to where we’ve been, we’re on the other side of the curve, and that is the lowest number that we’ve had.”

According to state numbers, 73 New Yorkers died of the virus on Memorial Day, down from 96 on Sunday and 109 Saturday. The true death toll is likely higher as the state only counts those confirmed to have been infected with Covid-19, rather than presumed virus deaths. 

State data shows 363,836 confirmed Covid-19 cases and 23,564 deaths.

“This year Memorial Day is going to be a point where maybe we don’t all run back to the beach, but we’re going to turn the page on Covid-19, and we’re going to start focusing on reopening, and how we reopen how smart we are in reopening because that’s the whole issue,” said Cuomo. 

Over the weekend, Cuomo said state and local governments would provide death benefits for families of essential workers who die of Covid-19.

Cuomo expressed concern Tuesday about the long-term health of his state’s economy — a topic he plans to discuss in Washington when he meets with President Donald Trump on Wednesday.

“I don’t believe that the economy just bounces back,” Cuomo said. “I don’t believe it comes straight back. I believe it bounces back. But it bounces back differently … It’s not like bouncing a basketball. You bounce a basketball, it goes down and comes straight back up. It’s like dropping a football.”

Cuomo laid out a number of infrastructure projects underway or aspirational in the state, including an expansion of renewable power and the ongoing renovations at LaGuardia Airport, expressing a desire to “accelerate” them. Without providing many details on how, Cuomo said it is another topic he would discuss with Trump.

“You don’t need to be a government expert or an engineer to figure it out, it’s common sense,” he said. “You have an infrastructure that’s crumbling, you need to jumpstart the economy, you need to create jobs, do it now.”

Cuomo also continued to encourage New Yorkers to wear face coverings to protect themselves and others during the pandemic.

“Wearing a mask is now cool. I believe it’s cool,” he said. “Some people coordinate their outfit with the color of their mask. … This has got to be part of every New Yorker’s fashion and design and clothing and outfit, wearing the mask.”

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