One of the states at the forefront of the emerging domestic fight against the novel coronavirus has enacted new legislation designed to bolster their COVID-19 prevention efforts.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo (D) signed a bill including a slate of measures, including $40 million worth of new spending, to combat the spread of the novel coronavirus in his state.
As of March 10th, the state had reported 173 cases
“As the situation with the novel coronavirus continues to evolve, I want the people of New York State to know that their government is doing everything possible to confront and contain it," Cuomo said at a press conference at the state capitol in Albany.
Cuomo’s proposal addresses direct virus prevention measures as well as the indirect consequences of those measures. The money appropriated will go toward hiring new staff and also purchasing new equipment to respond to the outbreak. One of the top priorities of officials in the state has been to increase the state’s testing capacity, which Cuomo said had been in the range of “a couple of hundred tests per day.”
The expansion is possible because the state’s Wadsworth Center laboratory secured approval from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to proceed with a diagnostic test developed at the center. The approval marked the first time a COVID-19 test not developed by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) gained FDA approval, the governor’s press office said.
Cuomo said the Wadsworth Center will work with private laboratories and hospitals around the state, which he said should result in a new capacity of as many as 1000 diagnostic tests per day. He said the new procedures will also provide faster results, since clinicians will no longer have to send their specimens to the CDC for testing. The Wadsworth Center is generally able to complete testing within 3 to 5 hours of receipt of specimens, he said.
Meanwhile, Cuomo said the state will also recall students in the State University of New York (SUNY) system who are studying abroad in countries with a high prevalence of coronavirus. SUNY is also contemplating whether to have all students in study abroad programs return home as a precautionary measure.
“There’s a practical reason why you might want students to come home before travel in that country is stopped,” he said.
Cuomo said New York will put into effect new cleaning protocols for the state’s schools and public transport systems in hopes of decreasing the risk of transmission of the coronavirus through touching surfaces in public areas
Cuomo is also working to ameliorate some of the indirect impacts of the coronavirus. He plans to amend his paid sick leave budget proposal to make it illegal to terminate an employee merely because the employee is forced to miss work due to isolation or quarantine as a result of the virus.
Even as he sought to characterize the state’s response as proactive and robust, Cuomo also urged New Yorkers not to panic, characterizing the threat as relatively minimal for most people.
“The real fact that’s relevant is 80% of the people who get this virus will self-resolve,” he said. “They may not even know they had the virus.”
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