Suffolk County residents will be included in New York State’s initial antibody testing survey for the new coronavirus, County Executive Steve Bellone confirmed Monday.
The New York State Department of Health’s random survey of 3,000 people, the results of which are expected by the end of this week, is designed to get a handle on what percentage of the state’s population has already had the virus, which could provide the initial guidance on how to do further antibody testing, and on the safest way to reopen the state’s economy.
Mr. Bellone pointed out that Suffolk County, which initially traced the contacts of the earliest reported victims of the virus in Southold Town, learned quickly after its initial case was reported on March 8 that the virus was widespread throughout the county, and had to switch from what’s known as a “containment” strategy of isolating infected people and tracing their contacts, to a “mitigation” strategy of bolstering the county’s health care center and treating people who were already sick.
He explained that the county was unable to continue tracing the contacts of people who test positive for the virus “because of “the sheer scale and speed of the disease.”
“It became clear pretty quickly that the virus had been here for some time and had been widespread throughout the county,” said Mr. Bellone. He added that, once cases decline, the role of contact tracing, along with aggressive testing, becomes more important again.
Suffolk County Health Commissioner Dr. Gregson Pigott said the county normally has seven public health nurses who do contact tracing, but there are now more employees ready to work with them on contact tracing going forward.
“It is an incredible challenge,” said Mr. Bellone.
“The governor is starting a random testing process to identify statistically the number of people who have antibodies in the state, and whether people really do have protection,” he added. “What we are looking to do is see what the state testing program is, and to the extent contact tracing will help with that program, we will be ready to help with that work.”
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced the random antibody survey at his Sunday press briefing at Northwell Health’s Feinstein Institute for Medical Research in Manhasset.
“We’re going to do that in the most aggressive way in the nation,” said Mr. Cuomo. “That will tell us for first time what percent of pop act has had the coronavirus and is, at least short term, immune to the virus. It’s the first snapshot of what we’re dealing with.”
Mr. Cuomo’s secretary, Melissa DeRosa, pointed out that Germany had done a similar study of 3,000 people in a population of 83 million people, while New York’s population is just 19 million.
Northwell Health President and CEO Michael Dowling said Northwell expects to be able to do 10,000 tests per day by the end of this week, and up to 20,000 per day shortly after that.
“We anticipate we’ll be able to do hundreds of thousands of tests,” he said, adding that Northwell is also working to ensure other health care systems have access to antibody tests. “The goal is to do the maximum amount of testing we can.”
What About the Summer?
Mr. Bellone, the Suffolk County Executive, also announced Monday that Suffolk County is putting together a summer planning work group consisting of town supervisors and village mayors throughout the county, to coordinate guidelines and recommendations for safe outdoor recreation this summer.
“They will be developing guidelines and recommendations on the reopening of municipal facilities and communicating that information to the downstate regional task force,” he said.
Mr. Bellone’s announcement comes two days after Mr. Cuomo, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy and Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont announced that marinas, boatyards and marine manufacturers will be allowed to open for personal use in all three states as long as strict social distancing and sanitization protocols are followed.
“Aligning our polices in this area is another example of that strong partnership, and will help ensure there is no confusion or ‘state shopping’ when it comes to marinas and boatyards,” said Mr. Cuomo.
“I know this is an unprecedented situation. I know challenging it is for many people, especially as summer approaches and there is a strong desire to get back to some semblance of normalcy,” said Mr. Bellone. “We will be transitioning into something different, a new normal, a different kind of environment, with different rules.”
“There’s no question we’re a summer community, a beach community,” he added. “That’s part of who we are. It’s part of our quality of life. We know as we get closer to summertime there will be a natural urge to move beyond this really terrible experience that we’ve been through. That makes it even more important that we are as clear and coordinated as we can be.”
Mr. Bellone added that numerous farm worker advocates have been working with Suffolk County to deliver non-medical grade face coverings and hand sanitizer to farm workers on the East End as they begin the planting season.
Hazard Pay for Frontline Workers?
Mr. Cuomo called on the federal government Monday to provide hazard pay for essential public workers, proposing a 50 percent bonus for these workers.
According to the Center for Economic and Policy Research, 41 percent of frontline workers are people of color. Of those frontline workers, 45 percent of public transit workers, 57 percent of building cleaning service workers and 40 percent of healthcare workers are people of color. People of color are also disproportionately represented in delivery and childcare services, and approximately one third of frontline workers are members of low-income households.