ALBANY – The federal government has given permission to New York State to regulate coronavirus testing, a move that will sharply increase the number of people checked for the infection beyond the current system that targets individuals that fit into certain categories of risk.
The decision came during a phone call Friday between President Trump, Vice President Pence and Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, and will result in 28 additional private labs by the middle of next week processing tests of residents across the state.
"I think testing was slow ... but I think this is the right decision,'' Cuomo said Friday at the state Capitol.
Cuomo has warned that the positive cases in New York are not indicative of the depth of the spread because the testing has been so limited. In the past couple of weeks, just over 3,000 people have been tested – in a state with more than 19 million people. In Erie County as of Friday, the county health department since Feb. 1 has ordered just 40 tests.
Cuomo said the added testing capacity will make it possible so that 6,000 tests can be run each day in the state using a combination of public and private facilities.
Governors around the country have been pressing Washington to help add capacity for testing, which public health officials say could be expanded to get a better snapshot of how much the virus has spread. In New York, testing has been made a priority for the elderly, people with compromised immune systems and those with underlying health issues, especially respiratory problems. It helps explain the sharply rising number of positive COVID-19 cases in New York, but officials want to be able to test a wider array of the general population.
The governor offered rare praise for Trump, and also kind words for Pence, who is heading up the federal government's coronavirus response efforts, for his cooperation over the weeks.
He also warned the virus is going to become a worse problem in the state and that New Yorkers should prepare for disruptions. "I don't believe this is going to be a short-term issue ... I think this could be a six-, seven-, eight-month affair,'' Cuomo said of what he believes will be waves of cases in the future.
The Democratic governor pitched the idea Friday as he opened the state's first drive-thru coronavirus mobile testing facility in New Rochelle. The facility will have six lanes for people to drive up – after first calling ahead – and get tested and depart within 15 minutes of arriving. Cuomo said it is safer and reduces exposure problems than patients heading to a hospital to be tested.
The state has 200 labs already regulated in some form by the state health department to conduct things like blood tests. Cuomo Friday morning said the coronavirus test is not complicated and that the federal government should "liberate" the states.
Cuomo again reiterated that the state is not planning mass closings of public schools. He noted such an order would keep parents from going to work and, for some students, cut off access to food programs they now use during the day at schools. He said districts themselves have the authority to close if warranted. The sole state requirement, for now, is that a school must close for 24 hours if one of its students tests positive for coronavirus.