Independent Pharmacies Becoming Testing Centers

Darren McGee/New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s office

New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo announced Saturday an executive order that will allow licensed independent pharmacies across the state to become coronavirus testing sites.

There are currently 5000 pharmacies statewide, the governor said, and each will be allowed to conduct the tests, gathering samples that will be sent to area labs.

“We now have more collection sites, more testing capacity,” Cuomo said April 25. “We can open up the eligibility for those tests.”

Cuomo also said the state expanded testing criteria to include all first responders, health care workers, and essential employees, allowing those individuals to be tested even if they do not have symptoms.

“The more testing capabilities we have, the more we will open eligibility,” Cuomo said. “Hopefully one day we get to the point where anybody who wants a test can walk in and get a test. That was the dream.”

After the state’s randomized antibody survey of about 3000 people across region, results found 13.9 percent had them, indicating they had been infected with COVID-19. Extrapolated, this meant nearly 14 percent of New Yorkers have been infected with the novel coronavirus, or as many as 2.7 million state residents.

Long Island’s infection rate was 16.7 percent, above the statewide figure but below New York City’s 21.2 percent calculation, Cuomo said.

The data, collected at 40 locations in 19 counties, led to a preliminary death rate calculation of 0.5 percent of those infected.

The governor still cautioned the data was preliminary.

“What does it mean? I don’t know,” Cuomo said. “These are people who were out and about shopping. They were not people who were in their homes, they were not people who were isolated, they were not people who were quarantined.”

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone estimated by the state’s percentage that about 250,000 residents would have had it, but only just over 32,000 people have tested positive.

“That tells us there are just a huge number of people who have had the virus who did not know they had it because either they were asymptomatic or assumed they had some other illness,” Bellone said, adding it also shows “how contagious this virus is” and “how quickly it moves.”

Nearly 300 Long Islanders were recently infused with plasma donated by individuals who have recovered from COVID-19 as part of experimental treatments underway at Stony Brook University’s Renaissance School of Medicine, Northwell Health’s Feinstein Institute for Medical Research, and Catholic Health Services seeking to determine if the antibodies in plasma from recovering COVID-19 patients can help stop the infection in people still battling the novel coronavirus.

A New Testing Site

Southampton Village Mayor Jesse Warren, Dr. Peter Micholas, and other private citizens have teamed up to open a testing site in Southampton Village. The drive-through testing site will be located at 330 Meeting House Lane at the Hudson River Health Care office. Testing begins Thursday, April 30, at 10 AM, and will take place on Tuesdays and Thursdays thereafter.

The testing involves Q-tip-like nasal swabs. Results could take two to five days. Hours for testing may increase or decrease, depending on demand and funding.

Organizers said expenses will be paid privately through the nonprofit organization Hamptons Health Society, Warren personally, and through fundraisers. More information on pricing and insurance will be forthcoming. Testing will be free for those who can’t afford the fee.

A toll-free number will be available soon, and those experiencing symptoms will be prioritized.

Senator Charles Schumer announced last week that hospitals and health care providers in the state will receive $4.3 billion of an extra $10 billion allocated for designated coronavirus hot spots, like those across New York City and on Long Island.

The funding comes from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act to help the strain the virus has put on the health care system. The senator said in an April 22 statement that New York hospitals and providers have reported losing hundreds of millions of dollars per month from cancelled elective procedures to increased spending on supplies and equipment to handle COVID-19 patients.

Schumer said he pushed President Donald Trump and his administration to allocate funding for hot spots.

“These costs obviously do not exist evenly across the country, and it is therefore crucial that subsequent rounds of funding provide an adjustment for hot spots like New York,” he said. “The lion’s share of hot spot funds — more than $4 billion — are on the way to New York right now, and we sure need them. Our hospitals and providers have been the vanguard in the fight against the coronavirus. And these critical dollars will help keep the fight against the virus going strong.”

Suffolk County received $257 million in federal funding through the CARES Act.

The federal funding can be used for coronavirus response-related expenses incurred after March 1 that were not previously budgeted for.

A Call For More Money

Congressman Lee Zeldin, a member of the bipartisan White House Opening Up America Again Congressional Group and bipartisan Congressional Coronavirus Task Force, is calling on the Department of Treasury and Federal Reserve to allow Suffolk County to qualify for financing assistance through the federal Municipal Liquidity Facility and urging the administration to cover 100 percent of the cost-sharing burden of Federal Emergency Management Agency disaster relief, which currently requires the state contribute 25 percent of funds.

He also spoke regarding the House of Representatives’ passage and president’s signage of the Paycheck Protection Program and Health Care Enhancement Act, which includes $310 billion in funding for the Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program; $60 billion in funding for the Small Business Administration’s Economic Injury Disaster Loan Program; $25 billion for testing research, manufacturing, procurement and administration; $75 billion in reimbursements to hospitals for coronavirus related costs; and $825 million in additional funding for community health centers.

“As one of the areas hardest hit by coronavirus, Long Island’s health care workers are in desperate need of this funding to continue the fight on the ground, our shuttered small businesses need this vital lifeline to survive, and by investing in coronavirus testing, we can carefully advance towards reopening our economy,” Zeldin said. “This small business funding should have never been allowed to lapse, and I hope that Congress will continue to work together going forward in a non-partisan way. On Long Island, this is about survival, and we must deliver additional critical priorities such as funding for state and local governments hardest hit by this outbreak as we consider a Phase 4 coronavirus response bill.”

Earlier this month, Zeldin was informed by local officials that Suffolk County’s stockpile of personal protective equipment was out of surgical masks, regular-sized N95 masks, gowns, face shields, and body bags. Since then, the congressman has worked with Bellone, the White House, and suppliers to deliver over 1.2 million pieces of equipment for local health care and other frontline workers.

Following an April 24 call with the White House, Tyvek suits, gloves, face shields, surgical masks, hand sanitizer, and more was delivered to Suffolk County at no cost.

The Budget & The Primary

A recession caused by the coronavirus pandemic though, and a government spending spree on testing, health care, and aid to businesses and households, will nearly quadruple the federal budget deficit to $3.7 trillion, the Congressional Budget Office said Friday.

The 2020 budget deficit will explode after Congress passed and President Donald Trump signed four coronavirus response bills, the funds of which are added onto the $24.6 trillion national debt in just the remaining six months of the current fiscal year, according to the report.

Added onto that debt could be nearly $2 billion in election funding to states, largely to aid in the expansion of postal voting ahead of the presidential election.

Democrats, citing concerns about a possible resurgence of the virus in the fall, have been calling for expanded mail-in-voting ahead of November’s general election, but the proposal has faced push back from Trump and Republicans.

On the election front, the New York Board of Elections decided to cancel the June 23 Democratic presidential primary, it announces April 26, citing the risk of spreading COVID-19. It’s a move opposed by supporters of Bernie Sanders, who were looking to gather convention delegates to help shape the party’s platform in August.

Democratic Chair of the state Board of Elections, Douglas Kellner, called the nomination contest a spectacle.

“What the Sanders campaign wanted is essentially a beauty contest that, given the situation with the public health emergency, seems to be unnecessary and, indeed, frivolous,” Kellner said.

On Monday, Sanders’ campaign released a statement, calling the decision “an outrage, a blow to American democracy” and accused the state party of having a “checkered pattern of voter disenfranchisement.”

The primary, originally scheduled for April 28, had been pushed to June 23 due to concerns over the novel coronavirus.

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Rick Murphy contributed reporting.

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