The number of test collection sites and who will be eligible to be tested will expand across New York State, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Saturday.
"Testing is what we are compulsively, obsessively focused on now," Cuomo said at his daily coronavirus briefing in Albany.
The state's 5,000 independent pharmacies will be added as test collection sites, said Cuomo, who issued an executive order allowing them to collect diagnostic coronavirus tests, which determine if people have the virus.
"If your local drug store can now become a collection site ... that would quickly ramp up our collection capacity," said Cuomo, who noted that some pharmacies, particularly national chains, have already begun testing.
Cuomo has repeatedly said that a significant increase in coronavirus testing needs to be in place before any "reopening" of the state can occur.
The pool of people who are eligible to be tested is getting bigger too. The list of essential workers that Cuomo displayed Saturday was wide-ranging, including bank tellers, auto service workers, counselors, food service workers, postal workers, delivery personnel, faith-based leaders, funeral home workers and those working in janitorial, laundry and several other fields.
"We had a protocol with eligibility for those tests. Not everybody could get a test, and that's been a big complaint across the board," Cuomo said. "Everybody wants a test, and they couldn't get a test, because we had a tight screen on the eligibility because we had a limited capacity to test."
Cuomo said that the eligibility criteria for testing will increase as the state's testing capacity grows.
"Hopefully one day we get to the point where anybody who wants a test can walk in and get a test," he said. "We had to prioritize, and we’re still prioritizing, but we’re opening up that prioritization."
The governor drew a distinction between the added sites that will do the "collecting" of tests from people and the labs that will do the "conducting" of the tests.
Also, Cuomo said the state will expand its antibody testing, which determines if people have been exposed to the coronavirus and have recovered from it. Front-line health care workers at four downstate hospitals were to be tested today and transit workers, the New York Police Department and New York State Police will be tested next week.
The testing expansion comes after the governor's discussion with President Trump earlier this week that arranged for the federal government to take leadership in obtaining the materials that labs need and the state to ramp up testing.
"The states take responsibility for the labs in their state and getting those labs functioning," Cuomo said. "And the federal government takes responsibility for the national manufacturers (with) the tests, the reagents, the vials, the swabs, all the equipment they need to send to our labs, so our labs can actually function."
Cuomo said that labs need specific supplies like swabs and chemical reagents from national manufacturers, likening it to how if one buys a computer printer, you need the appropriate cartridges to go with it.
That arrangement allows the state to increase its capacity of daily tests from 20,000 to 40,000, Cuomo said.
"As we're increasing the capacity of the labs – now our 300 labs are getting more equipment, more supplies – they can do more tests," Cuomo said. "Now we need more collection mechanisms, so they can send it to the labs."
Cuomo said 437 New Yorkers died from Covid-19 on Friday, a slight increase from Thursday's 422. It was the sixth-straight day that the daily death toll was in the 400-range. That number was in the 600- and 700-range in previous weeks.
Cuomo showed continuing declining hospitalization numbers, saying that Friday's total dropped to the same level that occurred 21 days earlier on April 3. Friday's total was essentially on the other side of the hospitalization "curve" as shown in the day-by-day chart.
"Total hospitalizations are down again, back to where we were 21 days ago," Cuomo said. "Twenty-one days of hell. But we’re back to where we were."
The net changes in hospitalizations and intubations continued to be negative, with more ending than beginning, as they have for more than a week.
The number of new Covid-19 hospitalizations per day, which had been around 1,400 for several days this week, decreased to 1,100.
"The new Covid hospitalizations per day actually ticked down yesterday after being stable for a number of days," Cuomo said. "Only in this crazy reality would 1,100 new cases be relatively good news. We'd like to see that down into the two, three, four hundred new cases per day."
Cuomo closed his remarks by noting that it was the 56th day of the state's crisis, and commenting on an anonymous quote of “I can’t do this anymore.”
"People are feeling the stress on a number of levels," Cuomo said. "I get it. I really do fundamentally get it. This has been a godawful situation on many, many levels. And many people I’m sure are saying this in their own way.
"Who said it to me is not important.
"But it was one of my daughters," smiled Cuomo, whose three daughters are staying with him in Albany during the stay-at-home guidelines. "I won’t tell you which one though, to protect their privacy."
Cuomo then drew comparisons, as he has during this crisis, to other generations' challenges, including the two years of the 1918 pandemic, the four years of the Great Depression, the eight years of the Vietnam War.
"I get that 56 days is a long time, and I get this is the worst thing we have experienced in modern history. But it gives you a sense of perspective.
"This is a terrible experience to go through, but we will manage it, we will handle it and we will be the better for it."
Cuomo noted that experts predictions and models predicted that there would be at least 100,000 more serious infections in the state of New York, if not for social distancing and other measures.
"Think of it this way: What you’re doing is actually saving lives," he said. "That's not rhetorical, that’s not overly dramatic. You are saving lives. What we have done here has saved lives.
"Maybe the life you saved is not your own. OK. You still saved a life. And that’s not a bad way to spend one day, or 56 days."