Cuomo Says 21% of Those Tested in N.Y.C. Had Virus Antibodies

More than 21 percent of around 1,300 people in New York City who were tested for coronavirus antibodies this week were found to have them, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said on Thursday.

The results were from a state program that tested 3,000 supermarket customers across New York State. Nearly 14 percent of the tests came back positive, Mr. Cuomo said.

It was unclear just how telling the preliminary data was, as Mr. Cuomo acknowledged. And the accuracy of the antibody testing available in the United States in general has been called into question.

Antibody tests are intended to signal whether a person may have built immunity to virus. They do not test for the virus itself.

But if the state’s numbers indicated the true incidence of the virus, they would mean that more than 1.7 million people in New York City, and more than 2.6 million people statewide, have already been infected.

That is far greater than the 250,000 confirmed cases of the virus itself that the state has recorded.

It would also mean that the fatality rate from the virus was relatively low, about 0.5 percent, Mr. Cuomo said.

The city’s top disease control official, Dr. Demetre C. Daskalakis, wrote in an email alert on Wednesday that the tests “may produce false negative or false positive results,” pointing to “significant voids” in using the science to pinpoint immunity.

Mr. Cuomo declined to speculate on what the preliminary data might mean. He said its main use would be to provide a baseline for tracking changes in the infection rate.

Supermarket customers do not constitute a random sample of the population. On one hand, they are out in public and spending time in stores, which could increase their exposure to the virus.

On the other hand, they are presumably not actively sick, or living in nursing homes, where the virus has taken a heavy toll. And, of course, no one who was killed by the virus was tested for antibodies.

“What does it mean? I don’t know,” Mr. 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.”

Mr. Cuomo also released the state’s daily figures of deaths and hospitalizations:

  • Deaths are falling: 438 deaths were reported on Thursday, down from 474 on Wednesday. The number of deaths in the first four days of this week is down 33 percent compared with the first four days of last week. The state’s death toll is now 15,740.

  • New hospital admissions remain flat: The number of virus patients entering hospitals has stayed around 1,360 a day for the last three days. That is down from around 3,000 a day at the start of the month.

Fifty-one people in the care of the city Department of Homeless Services have died of complications related to the coronavirus, which has now spread to more than a third of the city’s 450 shelters, the agency reported on Thursday.

The overall toll rose on Wednesday when officials learned of the deaths of three men who had been living in shelters meant for single adults and who died after being hospitalized with the virus, officials said.

Nearly three of every four homeless people who have died of the virus and were being tracked by the homeless services agency were adults living in shelters where multiple people share rooms and bathrooms.

At a meeting on Thursday, the City Council’s general welfare committee took up legislation that, among other things, would require that single homeless adults be provided with private rooms.

Advocates for homeless people have pushed the city to move people out of shelters into empty hotel rooms, where they would be in a better position to isolate themselves.

Before the pandemic hit New York, about 3,500 single adults were living in double hotel rooms because there were not enough shelters to accommodate them.

To protect the most vulnerable shelter residents from the virus, the city began to move older people, those with underlying health conditions and others out of the 10 most densely populated shelters. As many as eight to 12 people can live in one room in some shelters, making it difficult to practice social distancing. The city expects to move about 2,500 homeless people.

Advocates have argued that all homeless people should have access to empty hotel rooms, as health care workers and people who have homes but cannot safely stay in them have had under separate programs.

The programs drew scrutiny this week after three men were found dead at a Hilton Garden Inn in Manhattan last Saturday.

After Senator Mitch McConnell, the Republican majority leader, said that states hit hard by the virus should not get big infusions of federal aid and should instead consider declaring bankruptcy, Mr. Cuomo called the comment “one of the really dumb ideas of all time.”

The governor, a Democrat, has consistently said that federal money is desperately needed to help the state recover.

On Thursday, he said Mr. McConnell was “vicious” for labeling governors’ requests for federal aid to help state and local governments a “blue-state bailout.”

“How ugly a thought,” Mr. Cuomo said. “Think of what he is saying. People died. 15,000 people died in New York, but they were predominantly Democrats, so why should we help them?”

Mr. Cuomo, who referred to Mr. McConnell as the “grim reaper,” said he had not talked to the majority leader.

New York City’s jails, where inmates and correction officers cram together in cell blocks that are unsanitary and crowded even at normal times, have been among the most vulnerable workplaces during the pandemic.

The virus had infected 587 correction staff members and 323 inmates in the city’s jails as of Thursday, according to data from the officers union. Nine staff members and at least three inmates have died, officials said.

In a lawsuit filed on Thursday, the union accused the city of putting correction officers at further risk by requiring them to work overtime to fill staffing shortages. Some officers, the suit says, have been forced to work three straight shifts of at least eight hours each.

The union, the Correction Officers’ Benevolent Association, said the 24-hour shifts were damaging the officers’ physical and mental health and forcing them into a “cesspool of illness.”

Adding to the officers’ exposure, the suit says, was the city’s failure to require that those who missed work after showing signs of illness test negative for the virus before letting them return.

A spokesman for the city’s Law Department said officials would review the issues raised in the suit carefully. He said the city had been working to keep the jails safe by following guidelines established by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention while “addressing challenging staffing issues.”

In an earlier suit, the union accused the city of failing to provide adequate testing, masks and other protective gear to its members. The union said it had to get 25,000 N95 masks for officers from its own supplier.

The two sides settled that suit this month, with the city agreeing to provide, among other things, free testing for any correction employee who exhibited virus symptoms or who had been exposed to someone with the virus.

A new study of thousands of people who were hospitalized in New York City after contracting the coronavirus found that more than nine in 10 had at least one chronic health condition and that most had at least two.

The paper was written by scientists at the Feinstein Institutes for Medical Research, Northwell’s research arm. The senior author cautioned that the study was observational in nature, and that there was no comparison group with which to contrast frailties or outcomes.

The researchers found that dozens of children and teenagers were hospitalized with the virus, but survived it, and that women had a clear edge in beating the virus. Fewer of them were hospitalized to begin with, and they were more likely to survive.

One in five hospital stays ended in death. The mortality rate for those who were placed on ventilators and were no longer in the hospital was 88 percent. That was higher than some other early case reports, which found death rates of 50 percent to almost 70 percent, have shown.

Given that the length of hospital stays in the Northwell cases was relatively short, four days on average, it is possible that those who died were mainly patients who were so ill that any treatment was unlikely to help them.

Like several other reports on smaller patient groups at area hospitals, the Northwell research indicated that obesity, high blood pressure and diabetes were common risk factors for severe Covid-19 disease requiring hospitalization. One of the most striking findings: only 6 percent of hospitalized patients had no underlying health conditions at all.

His clients, as he calls them, were already tethered to their homes by age and disability. Now, they are trapped inside them by the deadly coronavirus

“A lot of my clients don’t get to interact with people unless it’s me,” said Mr. Gumbs, 48, who drove a school bus for 10 years before becoming a driver for God’s Love We Deliver (how to donate), which caters mostly to older New Yorkers. “Sometimes, they have no one to talk to.”

His conversations with them are shorter now, but just the sight of him — a glimpse from behind a window curtain, a peek through a peephole, the brief yet friendly exchange as he drops off a bag — is enough.

Herbert DeCordova, 91, a former chef and drummer, looks forward to Mr. Gumbs’s twice-a-week deliveries, when “all of a sudden,” Mr. DeCordova said excitedly, “the doorbell rings.”

Eric DeCordova, his son, said his wife works at a hospital; fearful of infecting his father, they have not seen him as often as they did before the pandemic. “This virus has torn us apart,” Eric DeCordova said.

Food — how to get it, how to deliver it, how to pay for it — has emerged as one of the biggest issues of the pandemic. Mayor Bill de Blasio has appointed a food czar. This month, the mayor and the City Council announced the city would give a $25 million emergency grant to nonprofit food providers to buy more goods.

New Jersey was on the verge of reaching 100,000 virus cases, Governor Philip D. Murphy said on Thursday.

Mr. Murphy noted the cruel milestone while reporting that the state had recorded 307 new virus-related deaths, pushing the toll in the past four days to more than 1,100 and overall total to 5,368.

Mr. Murphy reported 4,247 new cases at his daily briefing on Thursday, bringing the total to 99,989. He noted that 46,000 of those involved people who had cleared the virus’s two-week incubation period.

“Let’s remember that there are tens of thousands of residents who received a positive result who have now likely defeated the virus,” he said.

The number of hospitalizations rose slightly to 7,240 but the number of people on ventilators fell to 1,462, the lowest it has been in nearly three weeks, Mr. Murphy said.

As he regularly does, Mr. Murphy memorialized some of the state residents who have died of the virus.

He also mentioned Dave Clark, 47, a firefighter from Bay Head who died over the weekend, and Rick Vanderclock, 71, who was a state trooper for 29 years.

Mr. Murphy said Rutgers University had developed a saliva test that would be given to 1,200 patients and 4,300 employees of the state’s five developmental centers, which treat residents with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

The test relies on saliva to show the presence of the coronavirus and university officials have said it would allow for broader virus screening than the current method of using nose and throat swabs.

“With this new testing we can test 10,000 people a day,” said Dr. Brian L. Strom, the chancellor of Rutgers Biomedical and Health Sciences.

Ramadan, the monthlong Muslim holiday observed with fasting during daylight hours and feasting at night, begins Thursday evening.

To meet an anticipated need during the holiday period, New York City is adding over 400,000 halal meals to its program for distributing free food during the pandemic. The meals will be available at all 435 sites where food is being given out.

The program, which has distributed 14 million meals this month, expects to distribute 15 million more meals to New Yorkers in May, officials said.

The mayor said he expected the number of New Yorkers in need of food to rise above two million as the virus crisis continues.

Mr. Cuomo said on Thursday that nursing homes in New York would be investigated to ensure that they were following strict rules that had been put in place during the outbreak.

More than 3,500 people have died in nursing homes since the outbreak began, according to state data. That is roughly 20 percent of all virus-related deaths in New York.

Nursing homes have been required to:

  • Have their staffs undergo regular temperature checks and wear protective personal equipment.

  • Quarantine patients infected with the virus.

  • Assign specific staff members to residents who are infected, and to transfer any infected patients to other homes if providing appropriate care where they are is not possible.

  • Notify residents and family members within 24 hours if a resident tests positive or dies because of the virus.

  • Readmit those infected only if homes can provide the adequate level of care as dictated by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the state Health Department.

Mr. Cuomo said that homes that are found to have broken the rules could be subject to fines, or could lose their licenses.

New York’s congestion pricing plan, which calls for charging motorists to drive into Manhattan and spending the proceeds on mass transit, will probably be delayed beyond its targeted start date next year because of the virus and delays in the federal approval process, transit officials said on Wednesday.

“I think that given a combination of the pandemic and the delays in Washington, a January 2021 start is unlikely,” said Patrick J. Foye, chairman of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which oversees New York City’s public transit network, seven bridges and two tunnels.

The Central Business District Tolling Program, which Mr. Cuomo pushed through the State Legislature last year, will impose fees on drivers going into the most congested Manhattan neighborhoods. It is the first such scheme in the country.

The plan is expected to raise $1 billion a year, which was originally set aside to help pay for much-needed upgrades to the city’s subway.

But earlier this month, state lawmakers moved to let the authority use the congestion-pricing revenue to shore up its operating budget, which has been hit severely as revenue from fares, toll boxes and dedicated taxes plummet.

“Congestion pricing is more important than ever to the future of public transit in New York,” said Danny Pearlstein, policy director for the Riders Alliance, an advocacy group. “From ensuring streets aren’t gridlocked as we recover to funding the M.T.A. at its most cash-strapped moment, New Yorkers need this progressive new revenue stream.”

Michael R. Bloomberg, the former New York City mayor, has volunteered to help New York in its effort to test for the virus and trace its spread, Mr. Cuomo said on Wednesday.

Testing and tracing will be crucial to the state’s attempts to home in on specific instances of transmission and to contain the virus before it can continue to spread, the governor said.

“The tracing is a very big, big deal,” he said at his briefing on Wednesday. “Once you trace, and you find more positives, then you isolate the positives, they’re under quarantine, they can’t go out, they can’t infect anybody else. This entire operation has never been done before.”

Dr. Kelly Henning of the public health program at Bloomberg Philanthropies, Mr. Bloomberg’s charitable organization, said on Wednesday that the group would work with state officials, the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and a group called Vital Strategies to hire and train 4,000 to 5,000 people as contact tracers as soon as possible.

The state would pay the people, and the Bloomberg group would help with the hiring process, she said. The state Health Department plans to recruit members of its own staff for the effort, as well as investigators from state agencies and state and city university medical students.

Reporting was contributed by Gabriela Baskhar, Jonah Engel Bromwich, Pam Belluck, Maria Cramer, Luis Ferré-Sadurní, Christina Goldbaum, J. David Goodman, Nicole Hong, Andy Newman, Sarah Maslin Nir, Roni Caryn Rabin, Michael Rothfeld and Nikita Stewart.

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