State data estimates 13.9% of New Yorkers have had the coronavirus already

Results from the first round of an “aggressive” antibody testing initiative by New York State show that 13.9% of 3,000 people surveyed have developed antibodies for COVID-19, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Thursday.

State health officials conducted the tests this week randomly at grocery stores across 19 counties to see who may have already contracted the coronavirus and recovered.

The results differed regionally and Long Island had the second-highest rate of people testing positive after New York City, at 16.7%. Mr. Cuomo said the data may not hold, since the survey was conducted at grocery stores and thus wouldn’t capture New Yorkers who are either isolating at home or part of the essential workforce. No one under 18 was surveyed, Mr. Cuomo said.

Though the data is preliminary, it may suggest that approximately 2.7 million New Yorkers have been infected and self resolved, the governor said.

“This basically quantifies what we have been seeing anecdotally,” Mr. Cuomo said.

Widespread testing will not only help find eligible plasma donors but continue to inform the state’s coordinated reopening effort. “When you start reopening, you can watch that infection rate to see if it’s going up. If it’s going up, slow down on the reopening strategy,” Mr. Cuomo said.

In the past week, the state seems to have passed the apex point as new positive cases, hospitalizations and intubations remain flat or decline. “We’ve basically flattened at 1,300 [new] cases a day, which is not great,” the governor said, adding that he’d like to see that number drop off more steeply. 

An additional 438 deaths were reported Wednesday, down from 474 on Tuesday.

Though these trends suggest the worst may be over, Gov. Cuomo has shifted focus to the longer term issue of a possible second wave that could hit this fall. A comeback during the typical flu season, he said, could threaten to overwhelm the testing and health care system once again.

Nursing homes

Gov. Cuomo also announced Thursday that together with Attorney General Letitia James and the state Department of Health, officials will begin cracking down on nursing home facilities that aren’t following guidelines for handling COVID-19 patients.

As of Wednesday, more than 15,500 New Yorkers have died from COVID-19. Nearly 23% of those deaths, or 3,505, have been reported at nursing homes, according to data released by the state Department of Health.

Gov. Cuomo said there are a series of regulations in place amid the outbreak of COVID-19 that such facilities must abide by, including providing personal protective equipment and screening staff members upon arrival to work, isolating COVID-19 patients and reporting each case to all residents within 24 hours as well as transferring COVID-19 patients to other facilities if they aren’t equipped to care for them.

“This is a crisis situation for nursing homes. They are under a lot of pressure,” Mr. Cuomo said. “We get it, but they still have to perform their job.”

If nursing homes don’t comply with the executive orders, the governor said they could face fines or lose their license.

The state’s data does not include facilities that have reported five or fewer deaths and is somewhat inaccurate, as nursing homes were only ordered last week to begin reporting the numbers to the state.

For example, Peconic Landing in Greenport reported its ninth COVID-related death on April 5, but the state’s data lists six deaths for the facility. Peconic Landing has since stopped releasing information on deaths independently of the state’s reporting mechanism.

Federal stimulus

Days after meeting with President Donald Trump in Washington, D.C., Gov. Cuomo criticized Congress for failing to provide state aid in a new stimulus package expected to be passed today.

The nearly $500 billion in funding will replenish the Payroll Protection Program, which was quickly depleted in the first round, and other relief for small businesses.

Gov. Cuomo said the plan is shortsighted. “This is one of the really dumb ideas of all time,” he said. “They want to fund small business, fund the airlines, I understand that. But state and local government funds police and fire and teachers and schools,” Gov. Cuomo said. “When you don’t fund the state, then the state can’t fund those services.”

Congressman Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) announced Thursday that Suffolk County has received $257 million in funding promised under the CARES Act, which was passed March 27.

Mr. Zeldin and Mr. Cuomo are both advocating for the Federal Emergency Management Agency to exempt New York from contributing 25% of relief funds.

The governor blasted Sen. Mitch McConnell for remarks made this week suggesting states should declare bankruptcy instead of receiving federal aid in what Mr. McConnell referred to as a “Blue State Bailout” in a press release.

“How ugly a thought,” Mr. Cuomo said. “15,000 people died in New York, but they were predominantly Democrats so why should we help them. For crying out loud, if there was ever a time for you to put aside your pettiness and political lens that you see the world through … now is the time.”