New York to Begin Antibody Testing for Essential Workers

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New York State took an initial step on the long road back to normal life and began laying foundations for how the process will work, introducing an antibody test to identify medical personnel and other essential workers who have already had the coronavirus and have some immunity, Governor Andrew Cuomo said.

As the state’s coronavirus crisis starts to ebb and officials begin planning the massive undertaking of returning New York to a semblance of normality, they have begun putting in place initial goals and milestones. But with a shortage of testing capacity and a vaccine still as long as 18 months away, they are looking at a phased reopening based on two key factors: how “essential” a business is, and what its risk profile is for reigniting the spread of the virus.

A key element of the plan is to get testing up to speed, both for whether people have the virus and whether people once had it and have developed resistance. Initially, the test is being made available to first responders and other essential workers on the front lines of the battle against the virus.

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Using a testing kit developed by the state’s Health Department, the program will run 2,000 of the tests a day, Cuomo said Wednesday at his daily virus briefing. Those who have the antibodies will be allowed to return to work earliest, because they no longer carry the virus and have developed resistance to it.

New York has been allowed to conduct the tests in its own labs. But in order to enlist the help of private administrators and make it available on a widespread basis, the state needs approval from theU.S. Food and Drug Administration. If the FDA approves, the state could test as many as 100,000 New Yorkers a day, Cuomo said.

Cuomo emphasized that wide-scale testing was vital to any plan to reopen schools and businesses and that the states can’t afford to do such testing without help from the federal government.

In a reminder that normal life will be a relative term in New York for the foreseeable future, Cuomo said he would sign an executive order requiring New Yorkers to wear a mask covering their nose and mouth in situations where social distancing can’t be maintained.

The order will take effect at the end of the week, Cuomo said. There won’t be a penalty for noncompliance at first, but if people aren’t following the order, he said, he will authorize a fine that would be enforced by local governments.

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The new measures toward reopening are beginning to take center stage for New Yorkers eager to get back to work and move freely, even as they are unveiled against a backdrop of ongoing strife from the virus. Though new data shows the infection’s reach has plateaued and is beginning to ebb, it also shows the pandemic is far from over.

New York recorded 752 virus-related deaths in the latest 24-hour period, the 12th consecutive day with more than 500 fatalities. The overall death toll is 11,586. Thousands of new infections are being reported each day, and there was a sharp jump in the number of new hospital admissions for patients with the virus, to about 2,250 in a single day.

Still, total hospitalizations, intensive-care admissions and intubations -- in which patients were placed on ventilator support -- were down overall. And in a sign that officials believe the crisis phase of the infection is truly passing, New York -- the recipient of thousands of ventilators from other states and countries as the virus mounted -- is now sending them to other states, with 100 to Michigan and 50 to Maryland.

“We’re still in the woods,” Cuomo said. “But we can control the spread.”

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