Cuomo, Trump Meet in D.C. to Discuss Testing as NY Tops 250k Cases, Nearly 15k Dead

The two talked about testing, which Gov. Cuomo says is 'hyper-relevant' to survival and key to getting the economy back on track

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What to Know

  • New York's single-day death toll fell below 500 (481) for a second straight day Tuesday, but New Jersey posted its highest single-day toll yet
  • If social distancing is continued, new projections say the tri-state may be able to relax restrictions after June 1; when NYC fully opens up, Mayor de Blasio says it'll celebrate with a ticker-tape parade for healthcare workers
  • More than 20,000 confirmed lives have been lost to coronavirus in the tri-state area to date; 360,000-plus people have been infected -- and those are just the ones we know about

Gov. Andrew Cuomo met with President Donald Trump in Washington, D.C., Tuesday, in a bid to smooth an at-times fractious relationship that boiled over last week into a tweet-induced quarrel played out on live TV.

The governor told MSNBC's Nicolle Wallace that it was a "productive" meeting, adding that the bulk of the conversation focused on testing. Cuomo said that while virus tracing is a state issue, "we need help from the federal government to make the supply chain work for the manufacturers" for COVID-19 test kits.

Essentially, Cuomo and Trump agreed on roles that states and the federal government can play in testing. While each state will be responsible for the actual testing in labs — including tests for COVID-19 antibodies — as well as tracing virus cases, the feds will responsible for maintaining the supply lines for the testing kits. That means getting the necessary supplies needed for testing kits (swabs, vials, chemicals, etc.) so that the states aren't competing with each other for those goods, and driving up prices in the process.

Cuomo said he wants to work with the federal government to achieve his "very aggressive goal" of doubling the state's current daily testing capacity — from 20,000 per day to 40,000 — which he said will take at least "several weeks" to accomplish. The governor also wants private testing to increase tenfold. One of Cuomo's biggest criticisms against Trump in the last weeks has been over a lack of scaleable testing, an infrastructure he says is necessary to reboot state economies and sustain the reopening once it happens.

"I wanted to have a face-to-face conversation. This issue of testing, and who does what on testing, we had to get this ironed out," Cuomo said, using the topic of testing to smooth out the pair's testy relationship. "It's important for states that have a more difficult time reopening like New York."

Trump consistently has said testing is a state responsibility. Cuomo, as well as New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, have taken it upon themselves to expand capacity to their maximum abilities. A new antibody testing plan launched Monday in New York to supplement current and emerging diagnostics.

"No one ever imagined this testing system was going to become hyper-relevant to survival and would need a capacity of 20, 30, 40, 50 times what the system was doing," Cuomo said Tuesday. "This came out of the blue in many ways, and it's one of the lessons we will learn."

The governor said in a press conference following his D.C trip that the antibody testing plays a crucial role in determining just how many people may actually have been infected with COVID-19, rather than just who was hospitalized. It also will determine who can potentially donate plasma to those fighting the virus, and who could possibly return to work safely.

It was the first in-person meeting since the crisis began between the man charged with leading the nation out of the pandemic and the man whose state has shouldered the brunt of the impacts. Trump said at a later press conference that the two "had a great talk on testing, very good meeting."

"It was just honest and open. The president is communicative of his feelings, and I'm communicative of what I think," Cuomo said. "This is not about anyone's emotions about anyone else. I mean, who cares about I feel, what he feels. We have a tremendous job to get done."

Aside from testing, the governor also told the president that the USNS Comfort, the Navy medical ship docked on the west side of Manhattan, is no longer required for New York City and that the federal government can take it back to deploy it elsewhere that needs assistance. The ship had treated 172 patients as of Monday morning, and had capacity for around 500.

The two also discussed the need for states to get funding, with Cuomo saying states are in "desperate shape. Everything is being left to the states to do the reopening." President Trump is open to the states getting more funding in the next piece of legislation, Cuomo said.

What didn't happen during the conversation: Trump pushing for New York to re-open sooner. "He was inquisitive about what we were doing, and what we thought and what we needed. He never editorialized on what he thought was an appropriate timeline," Cuomo said.

With a virus that can transmit even among asymptomatic people, it's difficult to ascertain the full scope of the pandemic in a given place -- and understanding that full scope is critical to getting states back on track, experts say. That's what antibody testing does: Identify people who have recovered from COVID-19 even if they never knew they were infected. By painting a picture of how many people may have really been infected, it helps develop a more risk-balanced regional "return to work" strategy -- one that has a greater chance to stick.

Cuomo said that while New York would "ideally" like to test asymptomatic people as well, right now the aim is to find if the infection rate going up, down or if it's stable, which can't be found without additional testing being done. He also said that the testing "can give people a sense of security."

"It's one thing for government to say it's OK its safe to go out," Cuomo said. "If people don't believe its safe, they're not going to go. So the data and the testing goes both ways."

Preliminary findings from an ongoing study on antibody testing conducted in Los Angeles County, California, suggest infections are far more widespread than reported. Researchers estimate the number of infections to be up to 55 times higher than the number of cases reported to the county at the time of the study earlier this month. While the increase in actual infections may be staggeringly high, it also means the fatality rate is lower than previously thought.

Los Angeles County has more than 600 COVID-19 deaths to date; it's No. 12 in Johns Hopkins' list of most deaths reported by county.

The top five counties are all in New York, which has reported more than 14,800 coronavirus deaths to date and could have nearly 20,000 if New York City's 4,865 probable fatalities were included in the official count. The five boroughs account for about three-quarters of confirmed state deaths. Queens has lost more people to the virus than any county in America. Brooklyn and the Bronx are Nos. 2 and 3, respectively.

Coronavirus Deaths in Your City and State — and Across the US

These charts use daily coronavirus death data from Johns Hopkins University to show the seven-day moving average of deaths at the city, state and country level.

The impact of coronavirus varies enormously in the United States from one place to another.

Source: Johns Hopkins University.
Credit: Visuals by Amy O’Kruk/NBC, data analysis by Ron Campbell/NBC

It's a list no one wants to top -- and New Jersey, which has reported more than 4,700 COVID-19 deaths, is well-represented in its upper echelons as well. On Tuesday it reported 379 new deaths, its highest daily toll yet. Nursing homes have been dubbed ground zero of the coronavirus crisis nationwide, but perhaps nowhere is that more evident than the Garden State.

Forty-percent of New Jersey's virus deaths to date, nearly 1,800 people, come from long-term care facilities. State health officials launched a website Monday night naming every facility with reported cases and deaths after loved ones claimed they were being left in the dark about residents' conditions.

In New York, Cuomo has ordered nursing homes to inform families whenever there are COVID-19 cases in facilities where their relatives live. Care centers that fail to comply could face civil penalties. Hospitals still account for the vast majority of New York deaths, but there have been horror stories, dozens of deaths in individual homes and still, allegations of underreporting.

The Andover Rehab Center is under increased scrutiny after as many as 70 people may have died from COVID-19 there, with bodies found in a makeshift morgue. The I-Team has exclusively obtained documents from the day the first 17 deaths were reported. Sarah Wallace reports.

Overall, New York's daily death toll has been trending down. For the first time in weeks, it fell below 500 (478) Monday and did the same Tuesday (481). Hospitalizations and net intubations are decreasing. There were 1,308 new virus patients hospitalized Monday, which further solidifies a downward turn. Four days ago that metric was averaging 2,000 or higher.

That's good news, Cuomo said, noting, "Our definition of good has changed here."

In the near future, the governor said New York will allow elective surgery in counties and hospitals without major risk of COVID-19 surge. New York City, Westchester, Dutchess, Albany and several other hotspots will be excluded from that for now.

New Jersey and Connecticut have also seen positive movement on key metrics. Gov. Phil Murphy says infection rates have "significantly" slowed in New Jersey, while Cuomo says mitigation efforts have driven the rate to less than 1-to-1 in New York. He says it needs to go down even more to safely reopen the economy.

Murphy agrees, saying Tuesday the state needs to maintain its current posture on social distancing "for at least the next several weeks."

He is part of the seven-governor coalition Cuomo is leading to develop a gradually phased regional approach to reopening -- one that the governor of New York says will prioritize a "do no harm" policy above all else. Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont, also part of the strategy team, said Tuesday the states will be united on when to reopen bars and restaurants. They're also standardizing an approach to cross-border travel, something they've all tried to discourage.

Some states like Georgia are starting to ease their restrictions this week. De Blasio says he hopes officials there have the facts to back up the move. Jumping the gun could trigger a resurgence beyond Georgia's borders, he said.

“If some of these reopenings are done the wrong way, it’s going to affect all of us,” the mayor said on CNN Tuesday, warning it "could lead to the disease reasserting in a lot of other places" -- including, he fears, the one he calls home.

When New York City does fully open up, de Blasio said it will celebrate with a ticker-tape parade down the Canyon of Heroes for healthcare workers, who will continue to fight COVID-19 long after the worst battles have ended. President Trump supported the idea.

The president and Cuomo discussed their home city during their D.C. meeting. "He spoke about how he's never seen the city this way, and I agree with him," Cuomo said. "You can be in the middle of a tremendous snowstorm, and you more New Yorkers out than you get now."

And with no vaccine or treatment coming soon, it will take longer for NYC to get back to normal compared to other areas, the governor said.

"The density is what created this issue. NYC is one of the more dense places on the globe, that's why you can't compare any other place to it. Density is a problem in this situation," Cuomo said. "People are going to be very wary before they walk into a Broadway theater or onto a crowded subway car."

Ongoing testing, surveillance, mitigation and contact tracing will be key components of any plan going forward and will to varying degrees remain in place even after a semblance of normalcy returns to the devastated region.

Federal funding is critical to all of those efforts -- and the various relief packages have short-changed New York of that, Cuomo has said previously and repeated Tuesday. As the vice chair of the Republican-led National Governors Association, Cuomo has helped lead bipartisan efforts to secure an additional $500 billion for the states. By all accounts, intense fighting over state aid helped hold up a fourth stimulus bill.

Sen. Chuck Schumer said post-midnight talks led to a breakthrough agreement on the $484 billion package which the Senate passed on Tuesday. Sixty percent of the funds -- more than $300 billion -- would go to prop up the small business program that ran out of money last week. There was no money set aside to be dispersed to individual states, which clearly irritated Cuomo.

"The state that had the most pain and death, gets a bill because they sustained the most pain and death. Makes no sense.," he said.

Without that support, state budget allocations to schools, hospitals and local governments could be slashed by 20 percent -- an action the governor can least afford to take at a time the virus-ravaged state considers the steps it needs to take to begin healing its economic and psychological wounds.

Presuming full adherence to social distancing through May, the widely cited, Gates Foundation-backed IHME suggests New York, New Jersey and Connecticut could loosen restrictions and reopen nonessential businesses after June 1. That model also predicts slightly higher total fatalities for each of the three states by that time than it did in its previous iteration.

To date, the tri-state area has lost more than 21,000 people to COVID-19; it has reported more than 364,000 cases -- 251,690 of those in New York. New Jersey remains the nation's second-most impacted state, with 92,387 cases and 4,753 deaths as of Tuesday. Connecticut had 20,360 cases and 1,423 fatalities at its last report.

Nationally, the United States has seen more than 800,000 COVID-19 cases and nearly 45,000 deaths, by NBC News estimates.

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