New York City

Coronavirus: Cuomo slams CDC on test shortage, mixed messages as cases rise

March 6, 2020 Mary Frost
Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed coronavirus legislation in the Red Room at the State Capitol in Albany on Tuesday. Photo: Mike Groll/Office of Governor Andrew Cuomo
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Gov. Andrew Cuomo criticized the Centers for Disease Control Friday for the ongoing shortage of novel coronavirus diagnostic tests, and for the federal government’s confusing and contradictory statements about testing.

The lack of test capacity is thwarting states’ ability to contain the rapidly spreading virus, Cuomo said, and mixed messages from top officials are adding to the anxiety.

Another New York City resident tested positive on Friday for coronavirus, a man in his 50s who lives in Manhattan.

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“I don’t understand the CDC’s instructions here and how they think it’s supposed to work,” Cuomo said at a livestreamed press conference. “CDC says anyone who thinks they need a test should go to their health care provider to request one. But the vice president says we don’t have all the tests we need. Then how are you inviting anyone who thinks they need a test to ask for a test? How are you bringing more people into the pipeline? Then people will show up for the test and their doctor will say, ‘I’m sorry, we don’t have the capacity to run the test.’”

Cuomo said the state’s goal is to test 1000 people a day. New York had asked the CDC for permission to supplement their test procedure with private labs, but the CDC was slow to approve the request, he said. This week they gave their permission.

The state health system has devised a list of priorities, and can currently handle about 500 high-priority tests a day, Cuomo said.

“They’ve now approved it, and we’re now contracting with private labs and trying to get capacity to 1000 a day.” Northwell and Stony Brook will be among those carrying out testing. The test itself takes several hours to conduct, but within about 12 hours the results are turned around from start to finish.

Vice President Mike Pence said on Wednesday that the administration changed the guidance from CDC so that anyone in the U.S. can be tested for COVID-19 with their doctor’s approval.

“We have more than 2,500 kits that are being distributed around the country this week that will make more than 1.5 million tests available,” Pence said at that time.

But the Association of Public Health Laboratories said that member labs are a couple of weeks away from performing that number of tests.

Pence backtracked on Thursday, admitting, “We don’t have enough tests today to meet what we anticipate will be the demand going forward,” according to CNN.

As of this week, New York City was given the go-ahead to carry out its own testing. Previously, samples had to be sent to the Center for Disease Control’s lab in Atlanta, delaying results for at least 48 hours and limiting the number of people who could be tested.

Confirmed cases are expected to jump as health professionals suspect the virus has been circulating in the background quietly while testing was unavailable.

“Now we’re in a heavy testing mode, a containment mode,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said on an interview Friday with Brian Lehrer on WNYC radio.

“You’re going to see what’s in the report later today, the numbers will jump up meaningfully,” he said. “We’re trying to expand our testing capacity rapidly. We need support from the federal government to do that. When we get where we want to go, which is where we can do hundreds of people in a day, that’s going to give me a lot more comfort as we’re telling people to get to health care.”

According to de Blasio, the latest confirmed case is a man is associated with the previously stricken Westchester lawyer who works at a Manhattan law firm. He has mild symptoms at this moment.

They join a man in his 40s and a woman in her 80s, now in intensive care units in Manhattan and Brooklyn hospitals.

On Thursday the state’s count went to 22 confirmed cases. More than 2,700 people in New York City are being quarantined or self-quarantined, most of whom have returned from affected foreign countries.


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