NY Begins Widespread Antibody Testing as COVID-19 Deaths Trend Down

New York, New Jersey and Connecticut might be able to loosen stay-at-home orders and reopen non-essential businesses after June 1

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The infection rate of the coronavirus in New York is slowing, but the state could soon see the full scope of the virus as it begins antibody testing this week.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo says antibody testing will help provide the "first true snapshot" of how much of a hold COVID-19 has on the state. On Sunday, the governor toured a testing lab on Long Island, using it as a launching pad for the state's newest drive toward understanding and defeating the coronavirus.

"We're going to sample people in this state... to find out if they have the [antibodies] that will help us for the first time, what percentage of the population actually has had the coronavirus, and is now at least short term immune to the virus," the governor said.

Testing begins Monday, Secretary to the Governor Melissa DeRosa says, and the state intends to conduct 3,000 per day.

Gov. Cuomo gives updates on Coronavirus in New York.

New York appears to have past the peak, with hospitalizations continuing to shrink. Key indicators of improvement, like the decrease in hospitalizations and ICU admissions, are cruticial to planning for the reopening of the tri-state and beyond.

Governors from multiple states in the northeast announced their appointees Sunday for a multi-state council that will get people back to work and restore the economy amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The appointees include a health expert, an economic development expert and a respective chief of staff from each state, officials said.

New York state's toll neared 14,000 Sunday as Cuomo added approximately 500 more names to the mounting list. New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy reported 132 new deaths in his state, a dramatic decrease from the days before, while an additional 41 new deaths were reported by Gov. Ned Lamont in Connecticut.

Hospitalizations are down for a fourth day in a row in New Jersey, state officials say. Their data shows 40 percent of the people who have died from COVID-19 were living at long-term care facilities.

"We continue to work aggressively to ramp up testing capabilities as we know having a strong testing regime in place is critical for us moving forward as we plan to reopen our state," Gov. Murphy said Saturday.

Murphy reiterated his state's effort to expand testing. 70 testing sites are open across New Jersey, with the PNC Arts Center testing site now open to all symptomatic residents, he said.

"Rapid scale testing, contact tracing, means to quarantine and isolate, those elements must be in place and with that we can have the confidence, you can have the confidence, that we can begin to open up again," said Murphy.

There are signs that the curve is flattening in New Jersey. Adam Harding reports.

The University of Washington and Gates Foundation-backed IHME, has released its own predictions of when individual states could begin easing restrictions. According to the IHME, an ease on restrictions could be possible if there are strategies in place "that include testing, contact tracing, isolation, and limiting gathering size."

The model suggests New York, New Jersey and Connecticut might all be able to loosen stay-at-home orders and reopen non-essential businesses after June 1. Other states, the IHME says, could start as soon as May 4 while others are dated toward the end of June.

IHME Director Dr. Chris Murray says expanded testing capacity could help states reopen sooner, but a key factor in states' ability to reopen is their capacity to quickly diagnose cases of COVID-19 as well as trace infections in people who come into contact with those who have tested positive.

Not everyone is willing to wait for conditions to improve and the necessary expansion of testing. This past week, small rallies sprouted in a handful of states where protestors of stay-at-home orders called on their respective governors to relax restrictions.

In New Jersey, a woman who helped organize protests against Gov. Murphy's coronavirus-driven stay-at-home orders Friday is now facing charges for violating these orders, authorities said.

Protests by small-government groups and supporters of the president were planned in a handful of cities Saturday - one scheduled in New Jersey was canceled in the morning - after Trump urged supporters to "liberate" three states led by Democratic governors. Protests were also planned in Texas, led by Republican Gov. Greg Abbott, who has already said restrictions would ease in the coming week.

Trump is pushing to relax the U.S. lockdown by May 1, a plan that hinges partly on more testing.

Cuomo, as he has for weeks, said the various federal coronavirus relief packages short-changed New York and that a new $500 billion bill was needed that allocated much more money to the state.

"There are not enough tests being performed any group, anywhere in the state. There are not enough tests being performed in Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse, Albany, North County, Long Island, Westchester, not for prisoners, not for the black and brown population, not for health care workers, not for police officers," Cuomo said Saturday. "That’s true across the board. That’s why we have to bring testing to scale."

The overall toll is unthinkable, the sheer case totals astounding. But evidence shows the numbers would be far worse if not for social distancing and other mitigation efforts. Comparisons between initial and current virus projection models prove that; they've been sharply revised down.

The most important fact is we've learned we can control the spread, Cuomo says. On Friday, Murphy pointed to a vastly reduced infection rate in New Jersey.

"I know social distancing is hard. I know it’s not fun. I know it’s going to be a few more weeks, at least. If you want to be mad at me, go ahead," Murphy said. "But, my number one goal – my entire focus – is on defeating this virus and getting our state back to where we can reopen."

Cuomo's new executive order on facial coverings -- which took effect Friday and applies to anyone age 2 and older -- is designed to enhance the mitigation measures already in place. It requires New Yorkers to cover their faces when they can't maintain a 6-foot distance in public, like on a busy sidewalk or in a packed supermarket. It also mandates face-coverings in mass transit and for-hire vehicles. Enforcement will be left to merchants, compliance to individuals.

While Cuomo says the worst may be behind us, he says the crisis itself likely won't be over until we have a vaccine, which could be anywhere from a year to 18 months out, if not longer. Worldwide, there are 70 vaccines in development. Barring a vaccine or effective virus treatment, Harvard researchers warn social distancing measures may need to remain in place into 2022.

What's Next? Phased Reopening, 'Reimagining' Workplaces, More Testing

How we reopen is everything, Cuomo says.

He is leading a coalition of seven governors working to develop the smartest and safest way to do it. So far, they all agree it will require continued, strict adherence to social distancing and expansive testing -- testing to a degree they say requires more federal help than they've gotten.

He also wants to see more widescale antibody testing, testing that would identify people who have recovered from the virus even if they never knew they had it. That would drastically increase the number of people who could get back to work and expedite their return, Cuomo says.

New Jersey has conducted the fourth-most tests in the country and is the 11th most populous state, meaning it has "punched more than our weight" in that regard, Murphy said Friday. Like de Blasio, he called for a "universal regime" of testing to expedite a return to normalcy, a framework he said is impossible for New Jersey to create on its own.

The importance of testing -- widespread testing and early surveillance -- is one of the most key lessons learned in this crisis, Cuomo says. There have been others, and the governor says all the lessons will have to be taken in conjunction to move forward. It might not be the same New York it was, but it can be a better New York, Cuomo said. And it's not just up to the government to achieve that.

Cuomo says employers will have to "reimagine the workplace," consider how many people can telecommute and how they can encourage social distancing in the office. Customer interaction and employee transportation are other factors.

Failing to reopen correctly will negate all the progress we have made -- and the excruciating price we have paid for it, the governor says.

Healthcare workers are particularly attuned to that fact.

“We will end up where we started, an influx of people and struggling to save them all," Diana Torres, a nurse at Manhattan's Mount Sinai West, told the Associated Press. "If we reopen now, we just wasted our time.”

To date, the United States has seen nearly 700,000 COVID-19 cases and is approaching 40,000 deaths, by NBC News estimates. Globally, cases surpassed 2 million this week, according to Johns Hopkins.

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