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New York COVID-19 testing eligibility expands, 5,000 pharmacies to collect samples

Lindsey Leinbach takes a swab to test for the coronavirus at a One Medical testing facility built to help with the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in the Bronx borough of New York City, U.S., April 21, 2020. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

As New York state continues increasing its testing capacity, more New Yorkers will be eligible to get a COVID-19 test — and be able to take them at their local pharmacy, Governor Andrew Cuomo said on Saturday.

During his daily briefing, the governor said that the state’s 300 labs have ramped up testing to the point where more collection sites are need to obtain additional samples. To that end, Cuomo has signed an executive order authorizing more than 5,000 independent pharmacists to serve as collection sites.

Additionally, the state is relaxing testing criteria, which was limited to patients seriously ill from coronavirus or those who were exposed to COVID-19 and are at high risk of becoming infected. Now, the state will permit first responders, health care workers and various essential workers to take a COVID-19 test.

“We have boosted the lab capacity to the extent that we need more collection sites now,” Cuomo said. “I assume, and my educated guess is, that independent pharmacists will take us up on this. … Some of the larger national chains already do it. But if your local drug store can now become a collection site, people can go to them, and that would quickly ramp up our collection capacity.”

Frontline workers and essential workers are getting priority because of their direct interaction with people who are or may be infected with coronavirus every day, the governor indicated. When more collection sites are established and further testing supplies are provided, Cuomo noted, the testing eligibility criteria will be relaxed even further to include more New Yorkers.

“Hopefully, we get to the point where one day, anyone who wants a test can get one,” said Cuomo, who noted “that was the dream” early on in the coronavirus pandemic, “but we found out quickly we couldn’t do that.”

Once pharmacies are able to do so, they’ll collect samples from any eligible New Yorker who wants a COVID-19 test. The samples will be sent to a lab, which will determine whether a patient had the virus.

The governor also announced that, beginning Saturday, four New York City hospitals will conduct antibody testing for healthcare workers and first responders: Montefiore Hospital in the Bronx, Elmhurst Hospital in Queens, SUNY Downstate Hospital in Brooklyn and Bellevue Hospital in Manhattan. These medical facilities had high numbers of COVID-19 cases.

Next week, the governor added, antibody tests will be conducted on members of the NYPD, the MTA/transit workers and the New York State Police.

Meanwhile, Cuomo announced that coronavirus-related hospitalizations continue to drop across New York state, though the number of deaths connected to COVID-19 remain high, with 437 reported Friday. 

The state found itself Friday at the same level of hospitalizations as it was three weeks earlier. As he hopes for a continued drop in coronavirus infections, Cuomo urged New Yorkers to take heart that the sacrifices made to “flatten the curve” helped to avoid the worst case scenario.

“I get that 56 days is a long time and I get that this is the worst thing we’ve experienced in modern history,” Cuomo remarked. “But what you’re doing is actually saving lives. That’s not rhetorical. What we have done here has saved lives. Every expert …  projected that there would be at least 100,000 more serious infections in the state of New York. We did what we had to do, which was hard and is hard. What did we accomplish? [One hundred thousand fewer infections.] That’s what 56 days did. That is a heck of an accomplishment.”

The following is a list of essential workers eligible to receive a COVID-19 test in New York:

Watch the governor’s press conference in its entirety below.

 

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