State’s 5,000 pharmacists now allowed to conduct tests for COVID-19

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Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced that he will issue an executive order to extend the deadline of absentee ballot submissions for school board, budget and congressional primary elections on Sunday. (Photo courtesy of the governor's office)

CUOMO ISSUES EXECUTIVE ORDER FOR PHARMACEUTICAL TESTING

Gov. Andrew Cuomo issued an executive order Saturday that permits pharmacists to conduct diagnostic testing for the coronavirus.

The executive order will allow a network of more than 5,000 pharmacists throughout the state to be used as testing locations.  Cuomo said this action will also enable the state to build a collection network to meet laboratory testing capacity and increase overall testing.

“As we’re increasing the capacity of the labs… now we need more collection mechanisms or more places to collect the testing data so they can send it to the labs,” Cuomo said. “We’re going to authorize all the independent pharmacists in the state to be collection sites for testing.”

Some of the larger, national pharmacist chains throughout the state have already been conducting diagnostic tests. Cuomo said his “educated guess” was that independent pharmacists would comply to be a diagnostic testing facility.

“If your local drugstore could become a testing site, you could go to your drugstore and get tested…that would quickly ramp up our testing capacity,” Cuomo said.

The state as of Saturday was conducting an average of 20,000 diagnostic and antibody tests per day, he said.  After meeting with the federal government earlier in the day, Cuomo said officials hope to increase the testing number to 40,000 tests per day.

“I hope the federal government and the other governors follow that template because it’s a template that makes sense,” Cuomo said.

Cuomo spoke on the division of responsibility between the federal and state governments, and how it is being utilized in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.

“Basically the states take responsibility for the labs in their state and getting those labs functioning,” Cuomo said. “We regulate those labs and the federal government will take on the responsibility of making sure the national manufacturers have the tests, the reagents, the vials, the swabs, all the equipment the manufacturers need to send to our labs.”

Cuomo said New York is conducting the most tests per capita in the world.

“We know that testing is a key component of reopening the economy and getting to a new normal, and New York state is already doing more tests per capita than any state or country,” Cuomo said.

After outlining the executive order during his Saturday briefing, Cuomo announced the expansion of testing criteria throughout the state. The expanded criteria will enable first responders and healthcare workers to be tested, regardless of whether they are symptomatic or not.

“Since we now have more collection sites, more testing capacity, we can open up the eligibility for those tests,” Cuomo said. “First responders, healthcare workers, and essential employees have been carrying the load and have been subjected to the public all during this crisis.”

Nassau County Executive Laura Curran announced Saturday the county saw its 11th consecutive day of declining hospitalizations.

The number of hospitalized patients fell by 119 to 1,659 people, according to figures from the state’s Department of Health. The number of patients admitted to intensive care units and those on ventilators also continues to fall, Curran said.

Curran announced that 40 more Nassau County residents suffered coronavirus-related deaths as of Saturday, which brought the total to 1,558.

“Not a day goes by I don’t hear about a family member of a friend or an acquaintance of a colleague who is succumbing to COVID-19,” Curran said.

Cuomo also announced an increase in antibody testing throughout the state, which indicates whether someone has been infected with the coronavirus, even if they no longer carry the virus itself.

Antibody testing for health care workers at Bellevue Hospital, Elmhurst Hospital Center, Montefiore Medical Center and SUNY Downstate Medical Center was scheduled for Saturday, Cuomo said, and there will be “significant antibody testing” of NYPD officers, state police troopers and Metropolitan Transportation Authority employees.

BREAKING DOWN NORTH SHORE NUMBERS

As of Monday evening, more than 3,500 North Shore residents had tested positive for the coronavirus, according to figures provided by the Nassau County Department of Health,

The statistics, broken down by community on the county’s interactive map, were the most up-to-date figures available as of Wednesday morning.

Last week, the confirmed number of coronavirus cases throughout North Shore communities was 2,956.  That number increased by 610 over the week, for a grand total of 3,566 confirmed cases.

According to the map, the New Hyde Park area has a total of 1,414 confirmed cases of the virus.  North New Hyde Park, just south of Manhasset Hills and Lake Success is the area with the most confirmed cases at 380, throughout the areas accounted for.

The New Hyde Park area is surrounded by other municipalities hit even harder by the virus, such as Elmont’s 1,056 cases and Franklin Square’s 660 cases.

The same can be said for the Willistons and Mineola, which had the second-most confirmed cases, with 981.

Mineola and Garden City combined for a total of 490 confirmed cases, right around half of the area’s total.  The surrounding areas include Westbury with 409 cases, Uniondale with 924 cases, and Hempstead with 1,764, the most cases in one village throughout the county.

Port Washington residents could argue that residing on a peninsula is the key to lower infections, with just 384 of the North Shore’s 3,500 cases. Of that total, 179 are from town-governed areas and 77 from Manorhaven.

Those who live on Great Neck’s peninsula, on the other hand, may not agree with that claim, as 665 had tested positive for the virus.

The centralized villages, such as the Village of Great Neck and Great Neck Plaza, account for 321 of the area’s confirmed cases.  Kings Point ranks third in the area’s confirmed cases with 86.

While Manhasset, 422 confirmed cases, has closer proximity to areas with more positive cases, Roslyn, 581 confirmed cases, has two villages with more than 100.

Roslyn Heights and the Village of Roslyn combined for 219 of the area’s 518 confirmed cases.  A majority of Roslyn’s cases came from municipalities that stretch into several areas such as North Hills, 85, Flower Hill, 66, and Herricks, 69.

The town-governed parts of Manhasset, 102 confirmed cases, along with North Hills, Flower Hill, and Herricks, made up a majority of the area’s cases.  The villages of Munsey Park, Plandome, Plandome Manor, and Plandome Heights accounted for 51.

The six areas increased by an average of just over 81 confirmed cases from last week.

AN INSIGHT ON ANTIBODY TESTING

According to figures provided by the state’s Department of Health, Long Island has a 14 percent coronavirus infection reading, based on a survey of 7,500 New York residents.

The survey, conducted by the state DOH, showed the infection rates of major regions throughout New York after 7,500 antibody tests were conducted over the past week.

The survey developed a baseline infection rate after testing people at grocery stores and other box stores over five days in 19 counties and 40 localities throughout New York, officials said.

“It means these are people who were infected and developed the antibodies to fight the infection,” Cuomo said following the results of the preliminary study. “So they were infected three weeks ago, four weeks ago, five weeks ago, six weeks ago, but they had the virus, they developed the antibodies and they are now quote, unquote recovered.”

Anthony Santella, associate professor of public health at Hofstra University, spoke about his experience getting tested at his local Stop and Shop with close to 150 others.

According to Santella, the test consisted of a series of general personal and health questions, followed by a finger prick.

The blood from the prick is transferred onto a sheet to be sent to the lab, and the person who got tested receives a piece of paper with a code number that corresponds with their test.

“The test seemed like they were the same ones used for newborn screenings,” Santella said. “The health officials told me I would get an email or text within three days with my result.”

Santella said he did not get a response for three days, but after reaching out to the DOH, he received his negative reading.

Though Santella found no difficulties with the test or finding out results, he said the behavior of people awaiting their tests was a slight cause for concern.

“I saw a lot of really ugly behavior from people,” Santella said. “People were calling each other unpleasant names, yelling, and some were getting other people confused as to what testing this was for.”

Santella said it is important to follow the scientific method when anticipating a potential vaccine for the virus. According to Santella, it takes an average of 10-15 years for the Food and Drug Administration to properly roll out a vaccine concept to the public.

“You take that, and now tell people we want something rolled out in 12-18 months, it’s something I am a bit skeptical about,” he said. “We wish that money could solve it, but what we really need is time.”

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