NYC Rolls Out Own Tests for Covid-19, Says Feds Were No Help

New Yorkers relax in marked circles for proper social distancing at Domino Park in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, on Sunday. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

MANHATTAN (CN) — New York City is successfully manufacturing its own Covid-19 diagnostic test kits, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Monday, striving toward a threshold set by the governor to safely reopen the economy.

Thanks to a new partnership with the urgent care chain CityMD, which is administering about 6,000 tests per day in the five boroughs, the city conducts 20,000 Covid-19 diagnostic tests per day.

Announcing the figures at his daily press conference, de Blasio said the city will soon be able to conduct 50,000 tests per day, and eventually more.

Many of the tests are manufactured in the city after the federal government failed to answer de Blasio’s many calls for help, he added. 

“The city’s Economic Development Corporation got together, and I said to them from the beginning, ‘Throw away the rulebook, throw away the assumptions, even if we haven’t built things here, find a way to make them right here in New York City,’” the mayor said. “And to the credit of everyone at the EDC, they took up that mission immediately.”

De Blasio noted that the 3D printing service Print Parts has been producing the test swabs, while the fluid for transporting samples comes from Albert Einstein College of Medicine in the Bronx, and a Brooklyn design lab called Collab helped design the kits. 

“For the first time in our history, New York City is building and using its own test kits — homegrown New York City products, protecting New Yorkers,” he said.

The new test kits are in use as of Monday at the city’s public hospital testing sites, de Blasio said, adding that the city will produce more than 60,000 of the test kits per week by the week of June 1. To find a testing center near them, New Yorkers can go to nyc.gov/covidtest.

“This is about building the capacity to produce right here and to protect ourselves,” he said. “Now, we have to do it, because we learned we could not depend on the federal government.”

With CityMD’s 123 urgent-care locations, the city now counts more than 150 test sites, de Blasio proclaimed. 

“Every time we increase the amount of available testing, it gets taken up quickly,” de Blasio said Monday. 

As of Sunday, the city counted 190,408 confirmed cases and a total of 20,720 confirmed and probable deaths, though both those numbers are likely low due to a lack of testing.

The mayor said that as of Saturday, 11% of New Yorkers tested for Covid-19 tested positive. There’s a slight lag time on the city’s data. 

Parts of upstate New York were cleared to begin a phased reopening process Friday under seven data-driven metrics set by the state. De Blasio said Monday he’s optimistic the city will get there in the first half of June.

“We’ve got to then make decisions on exactly which restrictions to loosen up, exactly how, and we have to be confident that … we can hold the line,” he said. “We do not want to reduce restrictions and suddenly see an upsurge that puts us right back in a situation where you have to close down. So there’s a real subtle balance that needs to be struck.”

Embattled Health Commissioner Oxiris Barbot was notably absent from Monday’s press conference, after reports last week of a spat with the New York City Police Department over mask distribution. But some, including city councilwoman Carlina Rivera, have raised concerns that Barbot, a Latina, is being unfairly targeted. 

Though Barbot is the head honcho at the city’s Department of Health, crucial to pandemic response, de Blasio waved off concerns about her absence from his press conferences of late.

“We do the daily lineup according to what we need for that day,” the mayor said. “We put out a lineup of folks who can respond to the issues. And that’s what we’ll do every day.”

In partnership with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Department of Health and Human Services, the city will also conduct 140,000 antibody tests on first responders and healthcare workers, de Blasio said. The state has also conducted widespread antibody studies. 

“Every individual gets the results, that’s good, but on top of it, it will help us understand what’s happening with the disease more broadly, so it’s part of a bigger study to help us learn how to fight this disease better,” de Blasio said. 

Bobby Dean, 9, lies in a hospital bed in Rochester, N.Y., after being admitted with severe dehydration, abdominal pain and a racing heart. He tested positive for coronavirus at the hospital and the doctors diagnosed him with a pediatric inflammatory syndrome related to the virus, resulting in a six-day hospital stay this month. (Dean Family Photo via AP)

De Blasio also announced that the CDC confirmed a link between Covid-19 and the mysterious symptoms sickening children in New York and around the world — dubbing the condition multi-system inflammatory syndrome in children (MIS-C).

He urged parents to remain vigilant for symptoms including prolonged fever, sluggishness, upset stomach, a rash, pinkeye, and red lips or tongue. Parents should contact their health care provider immediately if they see multiple symptoms, the mayor said. 

The city has had 145 reports of MIS-C as of Monday and will update that number later this week, de Blasio said. One child has died in the city of the syndrome. 

In new demographic data on Covid-19 released Monday afternoon, the city included a color-coded map that tracks cases and deaths by zip code.

Among other things, the map reflects previous data from the city that the virus has disproportionately affected black and Hispanic New Yorkers, and that white and Asian New Yorkers died at rates lower than their representation in the population. 

The map shows that Manhattan and wealthy waterfront parts of Brooklyn have some of the lowest case rates in the city, while west Queens and the Bronx were hit particularly hard. Death rates were highest in lower-income or working-class neighborhoods like Canarsie, Brooklyn; Flushing, Queens; and the northeast Bronx, according to the map. 

Elmhurst, Queens, known as the “epicenter within the epicenter,” counted 3,068 cases and 267 deaths, according to the map, though according to the data it had a lower death rate than some other neighborhoods.

The Department of Health urged caution with the data, as low case numbers could simply mean testing wasn’t widely available in an area, and many deaths have gone uncounted.

“This public health emergency has affected all of our communities,” Health Commissioner Barbot said in a statement Monday. “The data also show that this virus is not hitting New Yorkers equitably and that reality is guiding the Covid-19 response. Everyone, particularly older New Yorkers must continue to follow guidance and take precautions to protect themselves.” 

The city also conducted a study on how the virus has affected the city’s low-income housing populations, finding that those who live in properties managed by the New York City Housing Authority are affected at a rate that matches their representation in the city’s population, or approximately 4.4%. 

Of the 7,818 Covid-19 cases affecting NYCHA residents, the city found, 943 died who had tested positive for the virus and an additional 298 died who died are presumed to have had the virus.

Governor Andrew Cuomo made headlines Sunday by getting a Covid-19 diagnostic test during his live press briefing.

That test came back negative, Cuomo said Monday, speaking at Roswell Park Cancer Institute in Buffalo, where he responded to reports from nursing homes that the state set an impossible standard in ordering all such adult care facilities to test all staff for the virus twice a week.

“And I understand that no other state is doing this, and I hear that quite often from the nursing homes — no other state is requiring that the staff be tested twice,” Cuomo said. “I understand that. I understand we have the most aggressive standard in the nation. But I also know that it is necessary. And look, from day one, we said this was going to be hard.”

Cuomo said Monday the state is working with private labs to provide 320,000 test kits for those facilities, out of an estimated 370,000 they will need per week. 

State data says a quarter of the state’s confirmed Covid-19 deaths occurred in nursing homes. For weeks, New York’s policy was that nursing homes could not turn away patients after they tested positive for Covid-19, though there was not a uniform testing policy in place for staff. That policy has now been changed — hospitals cannot send a patient who is positive for Covid-19 back to a nursing home. 

In New York state, according to its own numbers. 351,371 have been confirmed to have the virus and 22,729 have died as of Monday. The state does not count “probable” Covid-19 fatalities.

Facing criticism about the state’s sluggish response to an overwhelming number of unemployment claims, Cuomo attributed the delays Monday to fraud prevention.

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