MANHATTAN (CN) — Announcing a dozen new diagnostic testing sites in conjunction with New York City’s public hospital system, Mayor Bill de Blasio said that the capacity is not yet half where he wants to be.
The city conducts 14,000 tests per day right now, with a focus on high-risk populations and those with severe symptoms. De Blasio said Tuesday he wants that number to be 20,000 tests a day, then 50,000.
“The criteria for who gets tested will keep evolving as more and more testing becomes available, and we’ll have more to say on that in the coming days, but it stands to reason,” the mayor added. “As we reach deeper and deeper into the city, we want more and more people to participate.”
Though the city’s death rates tied to the novel coronavirus are slowly declining, as is the infection rate, the mayor emphasized that testing is “absolutely a requirement if we’re going to win this fight.”
One reopening model by the Harvard Global Health Institute, conducted for The New York Times, estimates that 35,415 New Yorkers would need to be tested per day to keep the virus under control. Under a different Harvard model, 19,352 tests would be needed daily.
De Blasio has repeatedly called on the federal government for more assistance with testing capacity. The city has 184,319 confirmed cases. In addition to 15,101 confirmed Covid-19 deaths, New York City has tallied another 5,136 probable deaths.
Governor Andrew Cuomo, who has in recent months issued mixed guidance on mask wearing, framed the action Tuesday as a sign of respect. At his press conference in Johnson City, New York, he held up homemade masks that said things like “New York Tough” across the front.
“Any mask, even if it says nothing, it does say something,” he said. “It makes a statement. When you wear a mask, you say, ‘I respect you.’ That’s what the mask says to everyone you walk past.”
State data shows 338,485 confirmed cases and 21,845 confirmed fatalities in New York on Tuesday. Unlike the Big Apple, New York state does not include presumed Covid-19 fatalities in its official data, so that number is likely low.
De Blasio also Tuesday announced two new appointments to his city Test and Trace Corps, which has drawn scrutiny over the mayor’s housing of the initiative within the city’s public hospital system rather than its health department, which has traditionally handled contact tracing. De Blasio has feuded with the Department of Health over public health messaging and school closures in the pandemic.
In an article from Politico Tuesday, consultant Amy Dixon said the switch delayed a highly time-sensitive process in the nation’s hardest-hit city. The City Council intends to conduct a hearing on the issue Friday.
Contact tracing is a delicate art that involves identifying everyone with whom an infected person had significant contact; calling or visiting them; and getting them to self-isolate or get tested. It is difficult work, and timing makes all the difference, emphasized Bruce Y. Lee with the School of Public Health at the City University of New York.
“Any further delay in setting up and implementing contact tracing would be concerning since the U.S. is already far behind when it comes to trying to contain the Covid-19 coronavirus,” Lee said in an email to Courthouse News. “This is a public health emergency that requires everyone to work together and coordinate.
“We also have to keep in mind that hospitals and clinics are only one component of health and health care. Doing contact tracing at such a large scale requires an understanding and connections throughout all the different communities. Otherwise, certain areas and populations may be missed, which could end up setting everything back. With the Covid-19 coronavirus being so contagious, it only takes a few missed groups for the spread of the virus to surge.”
Lee had elaborated in an April interview on how contact tracing works. “You have to do sleuthing to figure out how you track these people down,” he said. “And then once you track them down, you’re going to find people who are not going to return your calls, not going to cooperate, so getting those people can be challenging, too.
“So you can see how quickly it grows in terms of the number of people needed to do this.”
De Blasio insisted there has been no delay in getting his tracing corps off the ground. Though no contact tracers seemed to have been hired yet as of Tuesday’s press conference, he said more than 500 people are in training provided by the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health, which is working with former Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the state on building up a contact tracing army. It seems the potential tracers in this scenario must be trained before they are hired.
Lee, who’s former faculty at Johns Hopkins’ public health school, said the online training New York is using is followed by a certification that the user has completed the program. Certified contact tracers would then be mobilized by their local municipalities, he said.
“There’s going to be presumably some degree of coordination,” Lee said last month. “Normally when you do contact tracing, it’s usually just like an outbreak … and that’s usually just local just one one place. But here the trouble is, this is all over the place. And the virus is not respecting boundaries.”
De Blasio swatted down a question about the Politico article on Tuesday.
“It is being put together rapidly,” de Blasio said of the city’s tracing corps, later adding: “All I know is we have put together a very, very strong leadership team. … This was the right way to make it happen as quickly as possible.”
City and state officials are now sounding the alarm about a newly discovered set of inflammatory symptoms in children, similar to those in toxic shock syndrome or Kawasaki disease. Cuomo said Tuesday that the New York State Department of Health is now investigating approximately 100 cases of the illness, which may be related to Covid-19.
The affected children range in age from infancy to 21, with 29% of cases in children between ages 5 and 9 and 28% occurring in the 10-14 age range, Cuomo said.
In New York City, which has 52 cases of the mysterious syndrome and another 10 pending, 25 of the children tested positive for Covid-19, while 22 others had antibodies. Three children have died.
Parents are urged to have their children socially distance and wear masks in public if they are over the age of 2. They should contact a health provider if the child experiences symptoms like a fever lasting more than five days; difficulty eating as an infant or drinking fluids; severe abdominal distress including diarrhea, vomiting or pain; a change in skin color; trouble breathing or rapid breathing; racing heart or chest pain; decreased amount or frequency of urine; or lethargy, irritability, or confusion.
Cuomo also on Tuesday repeated his calls for more federal aid to fight the Covid-19 crisis, saying his state alone needs $61 billion in federal support or it will have to reduce spending for things like schools, health care and local governments.
He has proposed what he calls the Americans First Law, which would require businesses that accept federal aid but lay off employees to then rehire the same number of employees they had pre-pandemic.
“If you do not rehire the same number of employees, no government gift and bailout for you,” Cuomo said Tuesday, adding that New York’s Congressional delegation will propose the bill.
A federal judge in Manhattan ordered Cuomo late Monday to have a sign language interpreter at his daily briefings, after a lawsuit by Disability Rights New York argued they were inaccessible to deaf viewers.
Attorney General Letitia James, representing Cuomo, said the state might run into some technical trouble providing an interpreter for the television feed by Tuesday’s briefing but that it should be able to by Wednesday.