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Cuomo: WNY's positive Covid-19 test rate is highest in state outside metro NYC

Western New York has the highest percentage of coronavirus tests that are positive outside the New York City metropolitan area, according to numbers presented Tuesday by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo.

Among those tested in Western New York, 17% have tested positive for Covid-19.

New York City and Long Island both had rates of 31% while the Mid-Hudson region, which includes hard-hit downstate counties of Rockland and Westchester, was at 28%.

Western New York's 17% was well above other statewide regions.

The other regions included the Capital District (12%), Finger Lakes, which includes Rochester (10%), Mohawk Valley (9%), North Country (8%), Central New York (7%) and Southern Tier (7%).

The numbers were an average of the results of coronavirus testing over the past 14 days.

Cuomo presented the numbers Tuesday during his daily coronavirus briefing, which was held at SUNY Upstate Medical University in downtown Syracuse.

"Let’s come up with data points, factual points, so everyone has the same opening template that we’re dealing with this," Cuomo said. "We have to be smart about it. I know people are emotional, but emotions can’t drive this."

On Monday, the governor announced that statewide antibody tests suggested that 7.1% of Western New Yorkers have been exposed to the coronavirus.

The antibody tests, conducted on people in supermarkets and retail stores, show how many people have been infected with Covid-19 and then produced antibodies to it as they recovered.

Cuomo added some aspects to the state's reopening plan, including health care guidelines that would have to be in place for a region to reopen.

Cuomo said that a region's hospital system could not exceed 70% capacity, and the region's rate of transmission could not hit 1.1.

Cuomo said if either of those happened, "those are danger signs."

"Seventy percent is a safe metric to use for your hospital capacity," he said. "If the transmission rate hits 1.1, that's what they call outbreak."

Cuomo said the current transmission rate in the state is about 0.8.

When asked about different regions' hospital capacity, Cuomo said that Western New York – along with the Capital Region – currently "still has a capacity issue."

"We want to reopen, but we want to do it without infecting more people or overwhelming the hospital system," Cuomo said. "So, design that system for reopening. You can design a system with factual data, and that’s what government is supposed to do."

Cuomo made other additions to a list he presented Monday of guidelines regions would have to adhere to before reopening, including having a regional "control room." The governor said each region must appoint an oversight institution to monitor regional metrics like hospital capacity and the factors that go into the infection and transmission rates.

The statewide daily death toll due to coronavirus was 335, the third straight day in the 300s after about a week in the 400-range.

Cuomo said that statewide hospitalization rates continue to decline, with the number of new Covid-19 hospitalizations dropping below 1,000 people for the first time in weeks.

The governor called it "good news. ... It's still a significant number of people, 900 people. But overall you see the numbers coming down. So that’s good news."

Cuomo also paid tribute to essential workers, listing "protect and respect essential workers" as the last of 12 points he presented as part of the reopening plan Tuesday.

Cuomo said he had two "nightmares" at the outset of the coronavirus crisis: that citizens might not follow the state's guidelines of shutting down; but then that, in spite of the shutdown, essential workers might also stay home.

"You have to have food. You have to have transportation. The lights have to be on. Someone has to pick up the garbage. The hospitals have to run," the governor said. "What if the essential workers said, I'm not showing up?

"They showed up. I just finished communicating how dangerous this was, to convince 19 million people to stay home and close schools and close businesses, and the essential workers still showed up. They showed up out of their values, and out of their honor and out of their dignity."

Cuomo said that essential workers would be on a priority list for testing and that they would receive necessary equipment.

"I wanted to thank the health care workers," Cuomo said. "But it’s not just the health care workers, it’s all of the people out there all this time, making sure everyone else can just stay home."

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