NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s push to increase testing for COVID-19 coronavirus antibodies led to an executive order announced Saturday to allow independent pharmacists to start diagnostic testing at a time when isolation measures appear to be paying off.
New York saw 1,100 new confirmed COVID-19 cases in the past 24 hours, only a third as much as the increase seen in New Jersey where 3,457 new positive tests were confirmed overnight on Saturday.
“Only in this crazy environment is 1,100 (new cases) relatively good news,” said Cuomo. “I’ve always been worried that this little tick up, and that it’d be some evidence that we’re not on decline but all the evidence says we’re on decline.”
The first of Cuomo’s goals is to see new hospitalizations drop back to a couple hundred people per day.
“If you look at that overall curve that is the mountain, a little perspective: We are back where we were – 21 days of hell, but we’re back to where we were,” said Cuomo.
The gradual downslope of the curve reflects the state’s isolation policy and aggressive testing efforts since the outbreak began, and Cuomo announced plans to take measures the next step in finding more antibodies for future COVID-19 treatments.
The governor’s second goal is to increase such testing from 20,000 to 40,000 tests a day.
“We’re increasing the capacity of the labs, okay, so now our 300 labs are getting more equipment, more supplies they can do more tests,” he said. “Now we need more collection mechanisms, more places to collect the test data.”
An antibody test looks for very specific proteins that your immune system makes in response to an infection, whether it’s bacteria, flu, HIV or COVID-19 coronavirus.
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A coronavirus antibody test looks in a drop of blood from a finger stick for the antibodies against that virus.
“There are 5,000 pharmacies in New York State,” said Cuomo. “Some of them have already been doing it, some of the larger national chains, but if your local drugstore can now become a collection site, people could go there.”
New York State is conducting antibody testing for health care workers in four New York City hospitals – Elmhurst, Bellevue, SUNY Downstate and Montefiore.
“These people have been carrying the load, and they have been subjected to the public all during this crisis,” Cuomo said.
Registered nurse Caroline Silva, who works in an intensive care unit, says antibody testing cannot come a moment too soon
“I think it’s crucial that we get the COVID antibody testing,” she said. “In times of such stress and anxiety, I think it will just make us feel a little better in general as we come home and just the thought of us possibly affecting our families from this disease.”
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Next week, Cuomo said transit workers and state and city police will also receive antibody testing.
Lenco is one of around 100 companies offering antibody testing after the FDA announced there would be regulatory flexibility without its usual standard formal review because antibody tests have the potential to answer complex questions regarding when we can return to work.
The FDA is requiring all companies to validate their results to ensure it is accurate and reliable and provide those results to the FDA. The tests must be conducted in high-complexity laboratories including commercial facilities or public health labs.
Depending on which type of antibody the test looks for, it can tell if you have an ongoing infection or an infection that you’ve recovered from, and that’s key. If you had the infection and recovered, then you are likely immune to re-infection by the coronavirus and could be safe to return to work – but that’s an assumption.