MANHATTAN (CN) — Announcing that thousands of New Yorkers are being tested for signs of immunity to the novel coronavirus, Governor Andrew Cuomo rose Monday to a challenge from Washington about taking responsibility in the crisis.
The remarks came this afternoon as a reporter noted recent tweets by President Donald Trump on the initiative.
… “Testing, Testing, Testing,” again playing a very dangerous political game. States, not the Federal Government, should be doing the Testing — But we will work with the Governors and get it done. This is easy compared to the fast production of thousands of complex Ventilators!- Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 20, 2020
Responding in his daily Covid-19 press briefing, Cuomo emphasized that New York has offered to pay for tests, only to learn from manufacturers that they’re out of necessary chemicals or can’t produce swabs and vials fast enough.
“So, I don’t know what’s right or what’s wrong with that national supply-chain question, but that’s where the federal government could help,” Cuomo said.
“Should the states take the lead on the tests? Yes,” the governor continued. “But we need the volume, and the volume is going to be determined by how well those national manufacturers provide the kits to the 300 labs in New York.”
Cuomo likened the job to painting a house, saying the federal government wields the paint roller, while the states hold smaller brushes to cover corners, details and molding.
“Anything that is granular and specific to the specific details of a state, leave that to the state government,” he said.
In a separate briefing Monday, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio also called on President Trump for more testing and more funds, estimating that the city will have spent $3.5 billion fighting the virus by the end of the calendar year.
“Mr. President, you’re the only one who’s missing in action right now,” de Blasio said.
Led by the New York Department of Health, antibody testing got underway Monday at grocery stores such as Wegman’s across the state, with customers and employee volunteers providing a random sample population of 3,000 people to represent the state’s population of 19.5 million. Often cited for context is Germany’s similar study, which used a 3,000-person sample for that country’s population of 83 million.
The blood samples will be processed with an immunoglobulin G (IgG) immunologic test for antibodies by the state Department of Health’s Wadsworth Center, said Jill Montag, a spokeswoman for the office, in an email Monday.
Immunoglobulin G is made as part of the body’s antibody response. It’s made over a longer period of time and tends to remain in the body for longer than antibodies like immunoglobulin M, making it a good candidate for helping determine whether a person has been exposed to Covid-19.
In addition to offering some idea what percent of the state’s population has already been exposed to the virus, it is hoped the testing will help with calculating other statistics like true fatality rate and the number of asymptomatic carriers.
But antibody tests also have limitations. People who are in the early stage of infection with the novel coronavirus might not have developed antibodies yet, and even those with some antibodies might not be immune to Covid-19.
Amid a worldwide scramble, dozens of versions of the tests have been rolled out nationwide, raising concerns of inaccuracy. The New York Times reported Sunday that 90 companies manufacturing such tests have not been vetted, and some are fraudulent while others simply flawed.
Many of the tests lack approval by the Food and Drug Administration — the agency relaxed its approval restrictions on companies manufacturing antibody tests during the crisis. Because of the potential for inaccuracy and misuse, the World Health Organization in fact discourages the use of rapid-response antibody tests for Covid-19.
An antibody test that shows false positives could be particularly dangerous, leading someone to believe she has immunity to the virus when in fact she does not. On top of that, no one is sure how long immunity from the virus lasts, or how thorough it is.
A ramping up of testing should also be accompanied by a robust contact tracing system, Cuomo said Monday, through which authorities could learn through which the spread of the virus could be contained by watching everyone who came into contact with an infected person. The governor has not yet specified measurable steps by the state toward building a tracing task force.
Meanwhile, Massachusetts has implemented a $44 million plan to hire 1,000 contact tracers.
“You’ve got to have capacity to screen and measure what’s happening,” said Dr. Neil Clancy, an infectious disease specialist and professor of medicine with the University of Pittsburgh, in a phone interview.
“And I also question our capacity moving forward to really do, at this point, the surveillance and the follow-up that’s needed to rationally and safely open things up.”
That capacity, Clancy said, comes down to testing and tracing.
“You also then need a whole support system that comes with the testing itself,” he said. “I think in general it’s fair to say the United States has not heavily invested in, or maintained their investment in, the public health infrastructure.”
Clancy said it requires an “army” of people to follow up and contact-trace.
“So I think it’s both testing and the infrastructure to support and act upon the testing in a rational way that we have to make sure we have in place as we’re lifting restrictions,” Clancy said.
Cuomo also called Monday for hazard pay for essential workers, and promised the state would deliver half a million cloth masks and 10,000 gallons of hand sanitizer to public housing units in the state. These communities are likely been hard-hit by the virus, though it’s hard to know for sure as New York City’s Public Housing Authority does not appear to be tracking infections in its facilities.
New York had 247,512 confirmed cases Monday, with 14,347 fatalities listed on the state’s case-tracking site.
“It is only halftime,” Cuomo warned Sunday.