Pictured Above: Sen. Chuck Schumer and Northwell Health’s Dr. Dwayne Breining tour Northwell Health’s Core Lab in Lake Success, NY on March 2. Northwell will begin testing for COVID-19 this week. | Northwell Health photo
Update: March 8, 4:40 p.m.:
Suffolk County reported its first confirmed case of the new coronavirus on Sunday, March 8, as the number of cases in New York State jumped overnight as more testing was conducted. The Beacon’s full story is online here.
Update: March 3, 8:40 a.m.:
Northwell Health Labs announced late Monday it expects to begin coronavirus testing at its laboratory in Lake Success in Nassau County within a week, now that the US Food & Drug Administration has given the green light for outside labs to conduct the COVID-19 test. Northwell Health operates 23 hospitals in the New York metropolitan area, including Riverhead’s Peconic Bay Medical Center. Northwell representatives say they are working to enable in-hospital laboratory testing at its hospitals “within a month or so.”
At a March 2 news conference with U.S. Senator Charles Schumer at the 101,000-square foot Core Lab within Northwell’s Center for Advanced Medicine in Lake Success, Dwayne Breining, MD, executive director of laboratory services at Northwell, said manual testing for coronavirus could begin this week, with 75-100 tests processed daily. Once the lab automates the process, it will have the capability to process hundreds and eventually thousands of tests daily, he said.
According to Northwell Health, “prior to this week, all test swab samples from patients who met the criteria for testing established by the US Centers for Disease Control & Prevention had to be sent to the CDC’s lab in Atlanta for testing. The turnaround time for results was multiple days. To date, Northwell has referred only four samples from suspected cases to the CDC for testing.”
The first case of coronavirus in New York State was announced by Governor Andrew Cuomo Sunday, and Mr. Cuomo announced Monday, March 2 that the state plans to ramp up testing, with a goal of performing 1,000 tests per day by the end of the week.
With the expanded testing, a worldwide phenomena is bound to hit home for New Yorkers. But how close to home it hits remains uncertain on the East End.
On this Thursday, March 5, Suffolk County “will bring together all departments to conduct a training exercise regarding the coronavirus to assess and evaluate preparedness and run through possible scenarios,” according to a statement Monday afternoon, March 2, from the Suffolk County Health Department.
The one New York case so far was in a female health care worker who had been working in Iran who returned home last Tuesday and was in self-isolation with her husband at her home in Manhattan as of Sunday, said Mr. Cuomo in a Monday morning press conference. The woman was tested at Mt. Sinai hospital in New York City.
New York State and New York City received approval from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control over the weekend to allow states, hospitals and private laboratories to perform emergency testing for the new coronavirus, after rampant trouble with CDC test kits and strict guidance for CDC testing that left many people who were ill untested for this potentially fatal disease.
“We are coordinating with private hospitals and labs around the state. We want to get the testing capacity as high as possible,” said Mr. Cuomo in the Monday morning press conference. “We would like to have a goal of 1,000 tests per day capacity within one week. The more testing the better. When we test we can isolate a person so they don’t infect other people.”
Until well into last week, just two C.D.C. laboratories were authorized to test for the coronavirus, and those laboratories could handle just 400 specimens per day.
Mr. Cuomo added that New York is also instituting new cleaning protocols in schools and on public transportation, using bleach and disinfectant, and will open “congregate facilities where senior citizens are going to be treated.”
Local Hospitals Prepare
“Since the beginning of February, the county has been coordinating a multi-agency response and the Department of Health Services remains in close contact with the CDC and the New York State Department of Health,” according to a statement from the Suffolk County Department of Health Services. “Additionally, the department has done a full inventory of personal protective equipment, is collaborating with and sharing information with municipalities across the state, and has focused on public education including launching a webpage on the County website.
Northwell Health, which is handling communications for Peconic Bay Medical Center in Riverhead, issued the following statement Thursday from Senior Vice President, Chief Quality Officer and Deputy Chief Medical Officer Mark Jarrett, MD:
“Northwell’s clinical protocols are designed to quickly identify potential infectious patients as they enter our facilities, isolate them appropriately, prevent transmission of infections and protect front-line caregivers from potential exposure,” he said. “If the worse-case scenario develops and the New York area does experience a large number of coronavirus cases, Northwell and its hospitals have plans in place to handle a surge in patient volume. We encourage people to remain calm while also taking practical steps such as routine handwashing to protect themselves and their families from not only the coronavirus but the flu, which has already affected 26 million Americans this season – and killed more than 14,000.”
Stony Brook Medicine, which is handling communications regarding coronavirus for both Stony Brook Southampton Hospital and Stony Brook Eastern Long Island Hospital in Greenport, issued the following statement on Friday:
“Stony Brook Medicine is monitoring the 2019 Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) very closely and updates given by the CDC of the spread worldwide. We’re taking proactive and prudent measures to ensure the health and safety of the Stony Brook Medicine community. We have been implementing the CDC containment strategy guidelines for detecting, tracking and isolating cases of COVID-19. In addition to the clinical protocols and screening process in place to quickly identify potentially infectious patients in the Emergency Department and Outpatient areas, our teams utilize key infection prevention and control measures and staff wear recommended personal protective equipment. Stony Brook Medicine is utilizing the Hospital Incident Command Structure to streamline, focus and coordinate the wide-ranging activities required to maximally respond to the evolving situation within our community.”
The Nassau and Suffolk County health departments reported last week that 83 people in Nassau and 30 people in Suffolk are or had been in voluntary isolation, though they had not tested positive for the coronavirus, since they recently returned from trips to mainland China.
Pictured Above: Home Depot in Riverhead is just one of many retailers that have run out of face masks, as public health experts urge the public to stop buying them.
Using Common Sense
The U.S. Surgeon General’s office tweeted on Saturday — “STOP BUYING MASKS! They are NOT effective in preventing general public from catching coronavirus, but if healthcare providers can’t get them to care for sick patients, it puts them and our communities at risk!”
Local pharmacy and hardware store shelves devoted to face masks, particularly the N95 style respirator deemed most effective to protect against the new virus, are bone dry — China is the world’s largest manufacturer of medical face masks, and it has been keeping them in China in response to the outbreak there. The 3M corporation, which makes its masks in South Dakota, is ramping up production to meet the demand.
But many health experts believe face masks are not the most effective way for people who aren’t sick to stop the transmission of the virus, and that citizens who are not infected should focus instead on common-sense, but less visible, preparation methods like keeping their hands clean, not touching their faces, and covering their mouths when they cough.
East Hampton Town cited U.S. Centers for Disease Control protocols heavily in a press release issued Thursday, urging residents to wash their hands frequently with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, or with an alcohol-based hand sanitizer containing at least 60 percent alcohol; to clean and disinfect frequently touched objects using a regular household cleaning spray; to avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth and to avoid close contact with people who are sick. The CDC also urges people who are sick to stay home and wear a face mask around other people and pets.
East Hampton recommended residents turn to the New York State Department of Health for ongoing information.
While national leaders have attempted to quell the fears by saying that more people die from the flu each year than from coronavirus, that reasoning could lead to a false sense of security.
The flu has a well established death rate of 0.1 percent of people infected with that virus, while scientists believe, from the best evidence available at the moment, that as many as 2 percent of people who contract the new coronavirus die — making the risk of dying after contracting this new virus twenty times higher than the risk of dying after contracting the flu.
Experts believe the virus appears at the moment to be as transmissible as the flu, though it has not yet spread as widely as the flu.
The most massive study of mortality rates for this coronavirus to date was conducted in China through Feb. 11 by the Chinese Center for Disease Control, which found that, among 72,314 cases studied, 80 percent were mild. But patients over the age of 80 had a 14.9 percent chance of dying. Patients in their 70s had an 8 percent chance of death. Those infected in their 50s had a 4 percent chance of death, in their 40s had a 1.3 percent chance of death and patients ages 10 to 40 had just a .2 percent chance of death. The study did not report any deaths in children younger than 10.
Mr. Cuomo said in Monday’s press conference that 1.4 percent of coronavirus patients die, but said those figures are extrapolated from people around the world, and he believes the death rate would be lower in New York, which has “the best health care system in the world.”
“Excuse our arrogance as New Yorkers,” he said. “We’ve fully coordinated and mobilized our public health systems… We have been ahead of this from day one.”
“This is New York. We’re the gateway to the world,” he added. “Of course we’re going to have it here. The whole challenge is about containment of the number of people who become exposed and infected. Our challenge now is to test as many people as possible.”
“In this situation, the facts defeat fear,” he said. “The reality is reassuring. It is deep breath time. It is not our first rodeo with this type of situation in New York.”
Get Help If You Feel Sick
“We have told New Yorkers from the beginning: get ready. Here it comes,” said New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio at the Monday morning press conference. “This is something we can all handle together. New Yorkers do not scare easily.”
Mr. de Blasio said New York City hospitals can make 1,200 beds available for potential coronavirus victims without disrupting care for current patients.
“If you have symptoms and have any nexus to areas that are impacted by the virus, go get health care,” he added. “People have been heeding warnings and that’s helped us to stay ahead of it.”
“If you don’t feel you can get to a doctor, call 311 if you think you need care. We will help you get to the health care you need. If you need us to send someone to you, we’ll send someone to you,” he added
Suffolk County is also welcoming calls to its 311 service regarding being tested for the coronavirus or any other issue, according to the county health department.
The service can be reached from within the 631 area code simply by dialing 311, or from a phone outside the area code by calling 631.853.6311.
This story, originally published on the afternoon of March 2, is rapidly developing and we will be monitoring and updating any local developments as they occur.