NYC Closing the Gap on Virus Testing, de Blasio Boasts

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, left, and Mayor Bill de Blasio discuss the state and city’s preparedness for the spread of coronavirus at a March news conference in New York.
(AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)

MANHATTAN (CN) — New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said Tuesday the Big Apple has arranged for a consistent supply of Covid-19 diagnostic tests as infections appear to be plateauing and the complex process of reopening the economy takes gradual and uncertain shape.

“I’m sure New Yorkers wouldn’t have thought that the cavalry would come from … Indiana, but it has,” de Blasio said Tuesday. “That’s going to be a big piece of the solution going forward. I want to be clear, because to really get to that point where there’s no more transmission, we’re going to need a huge number of test kits.”

Test components include nasal swabs, tubes, and a viral transport medium — a chemical solution that stabilizes the virus sample. The mayor said Aria Diagnostics in Indiana will donate an initial 50,000 tests to New York City and then selling them to the city each week, 50,000 tests at a time, starting April 20. The mayor did not say how much the city will pay for the testing kits, and his office did not immediately return a follow-up request. 

De Blasio also said that in May the city itself will launch the production of an additional 50,000 test kits per week. Though he would not share the names of the New York companies or institutions involved Tuesday morning, he said academic and commercial labs would create the viral-transport medium and that local manufacturers and 3D printers would make swabs and tubes. 

Cities and states hoping to contain the virus in the coming months will also need to have extensive contact tracing efforts in place, and staff trained to do that work. 

Another challenge the city faces is providing testing sites for the majority of its residents who do not own cars. Drive-through testing sites have popped up throughout the nation, but New York will have to provide testing sites that people can walk to. 

The Covid-19 numbers for New York City announced Tuesday morning had infections slightly up. There is a two-day delay on the data, and the city released an update Tuesday afternoon showing that 10,367 people had died of coronavirus in five boroughs. That figure included an additional 3,778 people who were presumed to have died of the virus — be it at home or in a hospitals, nursing home or some other place — but did not test positive.

The city’s Health Department had been collecting the additional death data for weeks, The New York Times reported, and the new numbers cover approximately the past month, beginning March 11. The city will continue to report only confirmed cases to the Centers for Disease Control.

Statewide, the numbers appear to be plateauing, with between 18,500 and 18,900 total hospitalizations per day for the last five days. On Monday, 778 deaths were reported. The state broke 200,000 confirmed cases, with 202,208 total and 10,834 deaths, according to Gothamist

New York City and state report different totals for city deaths. On Tuesday, the city said there had been 6,589 deaths in the Big Apple, while the state’s count showed 7,349 as of Monday.

In his own daily briefing from the capital on Tuesday, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said the state is only getting 60,000 tests per month from private companies, not nearly enough. He cast some doubt on the projected New York City test numbers. 

The limited number of private companies that manufacture these testing kits in the U.S., he said, will be inundated with requests from all 50 states and have limited production capability. Cuomo called on the federal government to take the lead in purchasing the kits. 

A woman walks Monday night on Broadway during the coronavirus pandemic. Known as “The City That Never Sleeps,” New York’s streets are particularly empty during the pandemic. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)

“Let FEMA do the testing,” he said, later adding: “Why am I now competing for private testing capacity and private testing machines with Illinois and California? I want to get out of the eBay competition business for vital medical equipment and now vital testing. I would say to the president, ‘You take it. God bless you.’”

Trump had taken a Twitter swipe at Cuomo on Tuesday morning, writing: 

“Cuomo’s been calling daily, even hourly, begging for everything, most of which should have been the state’s responsibility, such as new hospitals, beds, ventilators, etc. I got it all done for him, and everyone else, and now he seems to want Independence! That won’t happen!”

In his briefing Tuesday, Cuomo said he would refuse to engage. 

“The president is clearly spoiling for a fight on this issue,” he said. “The worst thing we can do with all of this is start with political division and start with partisanship. … If he wants a fight, he’s not going to get it from me.”

Trump has falsely claimed he alone has the power to reopen states, when in fact the Constitution protects states’ rights. Cuomo helped form a regional coalition of governors to plan for the reopening process, which announced a working group on a public conference call Monday. 

In his briefing Tuesday, Cuomo also pointedly quoted Alexander Hamilton: “The state governments possess inherent advantages, which will ever give them an influence and ascendancy over the National Government, and will for ever preclude the possibility of federal encroachments.”

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the government’s top infectious disease expert, pumped the brakes Tuesday on a potential U.S. reopening in an interview with The Associated Press. 

“We have to have something in place that is efficient and that we can rely on, and we’re not there yet,” he said, adding that the president’s goal of May 1 is “overly optimistic.” 

Fauci said he would not be surprised if the country saw a second wave of the virus this fall, though he said it’s not inevitable. 

“I would hope that if and when that occurs, that we jump all over it in a much, much more effective way than we have in these past few months,” he told the AP.

Back in Manhattan, de Blasio expressed hesitancy about New Yorkers holding large gatherings in June, July or August. Any large gathering will carry a risk of Covid-19 transmission until populations have been successfully immunized. 

In a blow to pedestrians, cyclists and safe-streets advocates Tuesday, de Blasio deemed it impossible to enforce closing streets to cars to make more room for pedestrians to get fresh air and exercise during the pandemic, as other cities such as Oakland have done. 

Joe Cutrufo, a spokesman for Transportation Alternatives, blasted the position. “Eighty percent of New York City’s public space is our streets, and we’ve handed over the vast majority of that space to cars,” Cutrufo said. “People are still going to make essential trips for work, food and medicine. People are still going to walk, bike and run for exercise and fresh air. We need the mayor to take another look, and figure out a way to give New Yorkers enough space to do these things while maintaining a safe distance from their neighbors.”

The mayor did make one move to help New Yorkers crammed in tight quarters, signing a $250 million contract to provide hotel rooms to people with Covid-19 who aren’t sick enough to need hospital care or those who have been discharged and should continue socially distancing, Politico New York reported Monday. 

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