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State looks to add $40M to prepare for 'highly probable' coronavirus cases

ALBANY – New York State has, so far, escaped any confirmed cases of the new coronavirus, but Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said Wednesday he will ask state lawmakers for $40 million for new staff and supplies to help health officials prepared for the “highly probable” likelihood of the virus spreading into the state at some point.

“New York is the front door internationally," Cuomo said of direct flights from overseas, including countries that are seeing large numbers of people coming down with the virus.

The governor said New York is also asking the federal government to let the state health lab in Albany perform coronavirus testing – instead of a central U.S. Centers for Disease Control facility – in order to quicken the time it takes to get test results on people.

Cuomo also sought to allay anxieties about the virus, saying past SARS and ebola epidemics had far higher mortality rates than the new COVID-19 virus. He noted New York had a reported 18,000 cases of seasonal flu last week.

“We’ve handled situations like this in the past," he said.

The $40 million request, which is certain to be passed by lawmakers, will also include additional authority for the health department commissioner to ensure local health departments, hospitals and other health facilities take certain actions, if warranted, should an outbreak occur in New York. Health officials cautioned that residents don’t now need to be wearing masks in public and that the state has millions of masks stockpiled for patients and health care workers.

Presently, officials said one Long Island resident is in house quarantine awaiting results of a test, but that others suspected of possibly having the virus have seen tests come back negative. Officials also said the federal government is monitoring flights coming into New York for people who might have the virus; direct flights from China to New York City airports have been reduced from 42 in mid-January to seven as of this week.

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