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NY relaxes testing requirement for nursing home staffers

June 11, 2020 Marina Villeneuve and David Porter Associated Press
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ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — New York relaxed its mandate that required nursing homes to test staffers twice each week as a smaller percentage of New Yorkers tested positive for the coronavirus. New York tallied 53 deaths from COVID-19 Tuesday as the state reopens, and there are signs that commuters are returning with caution to New York-area buses, subways and rail lines.

Other coronavirus-related developments in New York:

Nursing home tests

Nursing homes in some parts of the state can start testing staff for COVID-19 just once a week, having been released from a sweeping twice-a-week mandate that began last month.

State Health Commissioner Howard Zucker said Wednesday that infection rates had fallen to the point where less rigorous testing was acceptable.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo ordered the testing regime May 10 in an attempt to belatedly stem the spread of the coronavirus through nursing homes. To date, at least 6,100 nursing home residents have been killed by the virus, including people who died before a test could confirm their diagnosis.

Nursing homes are able to reduce testing to once a week in parts of the state that have begun the second phase of the state’s reopening plan. Twice-a-week testing continues in New York City, which entered the first phase of reopening Monday.

Leaders of nursing homes and their industry groups argued for weeks that mandatory testing was costly and logistically difficult, as they required roughly 185,000 workers to get tested twice a week.

Zucker said the program has been a success, with more than 6,500 nursing home staff testing positive for COVID-19.

“While some called this mandate unnecessary, these test results have identified thousands of positive cases of those who may have otherwise spread the virus to vulnerable residents,” Zucker said.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo ordered the twice-a-week testing mandate on May 10 in an attempt to belatedly stem the spread of the coronavirus through nursing homes. Photo: John Minchillo/AP File

Drop in number of cases

New York’s death toll from COVID-19 climbed to over 24,400 Tuesday, as the state reported 53 new deaths of individuals who tested positive for COVID-19 in hospitals and nursing homes. That figure doesn’t include nearly 6,000 additional deaths reported by New York City officials.

Cuomo has stopped providing the number of deaths in his daily press briefings. His office said the state reported 46 deaths Monday and 39 deaths Sunday.

About 380,000 of the nearly 2.7 million New Yorkers who have been tested for COVID-19 have tested positive — or about 14 percent. The coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms for most people, but has been dangerous for elderly people in frail health.

But Cuomo has been pointing to the gradual drop in hospitalizations and new positive tests as signs the state can continue to reopen.

Over the last three weeks, the weekly positive testing rate has declined from 3 percent to less than 1 percent.

As many as 40 to 45 percent of New Yorkers getting tested had the virus in late March, when testing was just ramping up and limited to sick individuals.

An MTA employee cleaned turnstiles. The MTA reported that subway ridership reached about 800,000 on Monday. Photo: Seth Wenig/AP

Reopening of indoor restaurants, nail salons

Restaurants can start allowing limited indoor seating and nail salons and tattoo parlors can open up in some parts of New York as early as Friday, according to new state guidance.

The state says that massage therapists, piercing parlors, spas and tanning salons are also allowed to open under the third phase of Cuomo’s reopening plan.

Restaurants will have to limit indoor capacity to no more than 50 percent of maximum occupancy and either keep all tables at least 6 feet apart or set up physical barriers. The state’s rules only allow up to 10 people from the same party seated per table.

Employees must wear face coverings at all time, while patrons can remove coverings while seated. Similar rules apply for personal care salons and spas, which are also required to close waiting rooms.

Commuters return

Commuters cautiously returned to New York-area buses, subways and rail lines as the city entered the first phase of its business reopening.

The MTA reported that subway ridership reached about 800,000 on Monday, the most since the agency began reducing service in late March.

Combined bus and subway ridership increased 17 percent over the previous Monday, and regional rail lines saw increases of up to 13 percent of pre-pandemic levels.

Weekday subway ridership normally surpasses 5 million but plummeted more than 90 percent during the pandemic.

MTA officials have said subway and bus ridership could reach 70 to 80 percent of pre-pandemic levels by the fall, but concede that it is unclear what will happen.

New Jersey Transit, which saw rail ridership drop to as low as 3 percent during the pandemic, reported Monday a gradual increase back to about 8 percent in recent weeks.

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