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Cuomo announces antibody testing as statewide Covid-19 cases drop

New York will conduct a statewide program of antibody testing beginning Monday to see who has been infected as part of its effort to maintain a downward trajectory of Covid-19 cases, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said Sunday.

Addressing reporters at the Northwell Health facility in Manhassett, L.I., Cuomo said the Department of Health will test thousands of people across the state to determine who possesses the antibodies that could be used to help ward off the deadly virus in others.

"It will tell us for the first time what percentage of the population has actually had coronavirus," he said. "This will be the first true snapshot of what we’re dealing with."

Cuomo's office later said the testing will sample 3,000 people out of New York's 19.5 million, compared to Germany's effort involving 3,000 people out of a population of 83 million. Large-scale antibody testing will help determine the percentage of the population that is now immune to the virus, the office added.

Cuomo also announced that the state will continue working with the federal government to assist with the supply chain and coordinate private labs to ramp up diagnostic testing.

But the governor also said New York will need more cooperation from Washington.

"Nobody has ever done this alone," he said. "We have to do this with the federal government."

Much of Cuomo's laid-back Sunday presentation focused on numbers, which he said are painting a more and more positive picture. He noted that 507 New Yorkers died from the disease on Saturday, down from the more than 700 deaths at the apex of Covid-19's grip on the state.

And he reiterated his concerns over the significant fatalities stemming from nursing homes.

"Vulnerable people in a congregant facility, in a congregant setting where it can just spread like fire through dry grass," he said. "We have had really disturbing situations in nursing homes and we're still most concerned about the nursing homes."

Still, Cuomo reported that hospitalizations had decreased 754, to 16,213; intensive care patients dropped 118, to 4,878; and intubations for ventilator treatments dropped 112, to 4,134. Total discharges increased by 1,664.

He reported 6,054 new cases, bringing the statewide total to 242,786.

Locally, Erie County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz said Sunday that 8,292 people have been tested for Covid-19, with 2,192 confirmed positive. Another four Erie County residents died, increasing the total to 135.

In Niagara County, officials reported Sunday that a 73-year-old man and a 75-year-old woman, both with underlying health conditions, had died, bringing the total number of deaths to 15. The county also had 21 new positive cases of Covid-19 since Friday, bringing the total to 274.

Cuomo, meanwhile, continued a familiar theme: While the state's Covid-19 cases appear to have peaked and are projected to be on a downward slope, continued practice of social distancing and avoiding a headlong resumption of normal activity are necessary to avoid another onslaught.

"So it is no time to relax. And this is only halftime in this entire situation," he said. "We showed that we can control the beast and when you close down, you can actually slow that infection rate."

The governor acknowledged that especially in light of decreasing rates of Covid-19 throughout the state, political pressures are mounting to reduce at least some of the restrictions placed by the state on normal activity.

"Blame me," he said to those increasing the talk of backing off restrictions.

"We have to stay smart and we have to stay united," he said. "Government matters today in a way it has not mattered in decades."

And now is not the time to send mixed messages, he added. "We've done a great job as government officials and we have to keep doing it."

In light of President Trump's continued critical tweets aimed at Cuomo and other Democratic governors, Cuomo was asked Sunday if he had "faith" in the federal government and its approach to the crisis. He complimented Washington's aid in expanding hospital capacity in New York City, but reiterated that he will need more help in expanding the next phase – testing.

"We can do better working together than apart," he said. "I have faith we will because we have in the past."

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