Cuomo tells CDC to ‘wake up’ and let New York hospitals run coronavirus tests

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Governor Cuomo and Northwell Health executives at a Sunday announcement.

Governor Andrew Cuomo said Sunday he’s attempting to keep New Yorkers from experiencing the widespread quarantines seen in northern Italy and other parts of the world by expanding coronavirus testing in the Empire State.

But he’s fuming at the federal government for not acting with the same urgency. During a press conference at Northwell Lab, Cuomo told the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) to “wake up” and allow states to conduct their own testing of individuals to take initiative on containment.

To contain the illness which has spread fast, but still in relatively small numbers compared to other states and countries, Cuomo also urged the private sector to adopt a “liberal” approach to sick leave to prevent the spread.

He also suggested that public transit commuters to let crowded train cars and buses simply pass by — though that might seem to be an almost impossible task in New York City.

“When you’re on public transportation, find the least dense car or bus available,” he said expounding on how residents should avoid “density.”

Despite the sense of urgency and ongoing state of emergency in New York state, Cuomo reiterated the same line delivered in previous weeks: young and healthy folks have no reason to fear for their lives.

“There’s a level of fear here that is not connected to the facts,” he said. “This is not the ebola virus, this is not the SARS virus. This is a virus that we know a lot about… The dangerous aspect again, that vulnerable population.”

According to Cuomo, Northwell has the ability to test 120 individuals in high capacity, yet they have not received the green light from the CDC to do so.

“You can’t encourage people to come in to get tested if you don’t have to capacity to test them,” Cuomo said. “The more positive people we find the better.”

New York state, through independent labs like Northwell, could test up to 1,000 to 2,000 people per day, the governor said.

It was less than two weeks ago that the first confirmed case surfaced from a Manhattan health worker who recently returned from Iran that the number of confirmed cases has grown to 105 statewide — a jump of 16 individuals overnight.

The governor’s office says there are at least seven labs, including Northwell, across the state that could be mobilized immediately for COVID-19 testing.

A Queens Uber driver was discovered to be positive with coronavirus Saturday, and Cuomo said the state is tracking through the man’s fares to alert his customers. 

Abroad, 16 million people in northern Italy have been placed in a state of mass quarantine.

UPDATE: On Sunday night, hours after the press conference, the FDA granted approval to Northwell Labs to operate its own coronavirus test, according to Governor Cuomo.

“After days of advocating the FDA and the federal government to expand testing capacity for the novel coronavirus in New York State and working with Northwell and Wadsworth to expedite the process, we just received word that Northwell Laboratories has been authorized to test under Wadsworth’s emergency use authorization,” Cuomo said. “Manual testing of 75 to 80 samples per day will begin at Northwell immediately, but we still need automated testing approved so we can perform thousands per day.”

“While this approval is a good first step, the FDA must increase the testing capacity for the State and private labs, because the more tests we run, the more positive people we will find and the better we can control and contain the virus,” he added. “It’s one thing for the federal government not to have the testing capacity in place themselves – that was bad enough – but there’s no excuse for them not to be authorizing existing labs to do the work.”