Coronavirus Updates (April 24): “Huge Number” of Long Islanders Have Antibodies to Covid-19

Roughly 16.7 percent of Long Island residents in a random survey conducted by New York State had antibodies to the Covid-19 coronavirus, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced Thursday morning.

“If that in fact turns out to be the approximate number, there are just a huge number of people who have had the virus who didn’t know they had it — either they were asymptomatic or they assumed they had some other illness,” said Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone in his Thursday afternoon press briefing.

Mr. Bellone said the 16.7 percentage is for both Nassau and Suffolk counties, and the state has not yet provided a breakdown by county.

He added that if that rate holds true across both counties, it’s possible that 250,000 Suffolk residents have already had the coronavirus, far more than the just over 30,000 residents who have tested positive to date. The county has just shy of 1.5 million residents.

“If that many people have had the virus at this point, if we scaled up to a testing program that tests for who has the virus currently and the presence of antibodies, married to a really aggressive contact tracing program, you can contain this virus,” added Mr. Bellone. “This means we can reopen our economy with protective measures in place.”

The state conducted the survey this week of 3,000 New Yorkers at 40 locations, mostly grocery stores and big box stores in 19 counties. It’s the largest antibody survey performed in the United States to date. 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.

Statewide, Mr. Cuomo said 13.9 percent of New Yorkers had antibodies to the virus, meaning they had been exposed to the virus at some point but had recovered from the disease after their immune systems began producing antibodies.

The governor said 21.2 percent of New York City residents had antibodies to the virus. In Westchester, 11.7 percent had antibodies, and in the rest of upstate New York just 3.6 percent had previously been exposed to the virus and had prodoced antibodies.

Mr. Cuomo said that, if the survey proved to be an accurate representation of the virus’s spread, 2.7 million of New York’s residents have already had Covid-19.

To date, more than 257,000 New Yorkers have tested positive for the coronavirus, just 1.3 percent of the state’s population, according to data collected by Johns Hopkins University, which has been tracking the virus since it was first found in Wuhan, China. 

But New York didn’t begin testing for the disease until well after it was here, said Mr. Cuomo, and even people here who believe they may have had the virus in the past two months have had difficulty getting tested if they did not have severe enough symptoms or known prolonged contact with infected people.

Mr. Cuomo did say these are the preliminary results of Phase I of the state’s antibody testing, which is expected to ramp up over the coming weeks.

He did say the results come with some caveats — all the people who were tested were out of the house shopping, so they weren’t isolated or quarantined and they were less likely to be essential workers.

“We have to analyze what that does to the numbers,” he said. 

Mr. Cuomo added that, if these numbers do hold out, it could mean the death rate for Covid-19 is lower than the current statistics show.

With 15,302 deaths statewide as of Thursday morning, the state’s death rate is about 5.9 percent when based on the 257,000 confirmed positive cases. But if 2.7 million New Yorkers have had Covid-19, he said, the death rate would be just 0.5 percent.

Mr. Cuomo said that number also comes with caveats — it doesn’t include the large number of people, especially in New York City, who died at home without a Covid-19 diagnosis, and it doesn’t include deaths that may have occurred before New York began testing for the disease two months ago.

Blue State Bailout? Cuomo Doesn’t Think So

Mr. Cuomo also had harsh words for U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who said Wednesday that he would prefer states file for bankruptcy than receive more federal aid.

“This is one of the really dumb ideas of all time,” he said. “You want to see the market fall through the cellar? You want to see a collapse of this national economy?”

Mr. Cuomo also decried Mr. McConnell’s description of helping the states as a “blue state bailout,” because most of the early cases have been in states that tend to vote Democratic.

“Sixteen thousand people died in New York but they were Democrats so why should we help them?” said Mr. Cuomo. “New York State puts much more money into the federal pot than it takes out. We put in $116 billion more than we take out. His state takes out $148 billion more than they put in… Senator McConnell, who’s getting bailed out here? It is your state that is living on the money we generate. Your state is getting bailed out. Not my state.”

Suffolk Hotspot Rates Are Higher

Mr. Bellone, the Suffolk County Executive, also reported the initial results from “hotspot” testing sites opened two weeks ago in predominantly minority communities countywide where the disease had been found to be widely circulating, including Huntington Station, Brentwood and Riverhead.

Of 1,077 test results reported to date at those sites, Mr. Bellone said 577 were positive.

“We’re looking at a 53 percent positive infection rates in the tests we have received back,” he said. “That number is definitely a lot higher than the overall number in the county, which stands at 40 percent.”

Mr. Bellone was quick to point out that these tests are the results of a very small sample to date.

“It’s still early on,” he said. “At first blush I would say it’s what we might expect, that the infection rate is higher and more people are being affected.”

AG Launches Covid Nursing Home Safety Hotline

New York State Attorney General Letitia James announced Thursday that her office is opening up a hotline “where residents, families, or members of the public can share complaints about nursing homes that have not provided required communications with families about COVID-19 diagnoses or fatalities.”

“The hotline will also accept complaints about nursing home abuse and neglect, including failure to follow rules to keep residents safe,” she added. “Every nursing home should be provided with adequate PPE and testing, and enhanced infection control protocols must be implemented to protect residents. I am grateful to the workers in our nursing homes who continue to serve and support our vulnerable residents. These workers deserve our respect and must also be tested and protected during this time. My office will continue to work hard to protect residents of nursing homes and make sure their rights are preserved during this crisis and beyond.”

Individuals can file confidential complaints about nursing homes to the OAG online or by calling 833.249.8499. Information in Spanish is online here.

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Beth Young

Beth Young has been covering the East End since the 1990s. In her spare time, she runs around the block, tinkers with bicycles, tries not to drown in the Peconic Bay and hopes to grow the perfect tomato. You can send her a message at editor@eastendbeacon.com

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