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Dr. Howard Zucker and Gov. Andrew Cuomo appear at a recent press conference. (Photo courtesy of the Office of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo)
Dr. Howard Zucker and Gov. Andrew Cuomo appear at a recent press conference. (Photo courtesy of the Office of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo)

Cuomo advising local health departments to prepare for COVID-19, seasonal flu double-teaming people this fall

by jmaloni
Wed, Aug 19th 2020 09:10 pm

Cuomo: School districts needs to be prepared

Speaking to reporters on a conference call Wednesday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said New York is in “the second half of the game” – hopefully – with regard to fighting the coronavirus. He said local health departments need to prepare for flu season while not detracting from COVID-19 testing and tracing. Moreover, he said schools need to have a plan to mitigate a possible spread of the virus once campus doors reopen.

“We need to prepare for the second wave. Now the second wave is not the second wave that they originally talked about,” Cuomo said. “When they said ‘second wave’ originally, they were referring to the 1918 pandemic, which had one wave and then a second wave, quote unquote. The second wave was a mutated virus. The virus mutated and came back as a second virus. Once it mutates, it’s technically a second virus. When we started talking about COVID, we talked about a second wave: Could COVID mutate and come back in a second wave?

“We’re still in the first wave. The virus hasn’t mutated, but we do have in effect a second wave, which is the flu season is starting. You put the flu season on top of COVID – this is a very difficult situation to deal with and that is going to be the second wave. Dr. (Anthony) Fauci talks about a terrible fall; that’s what he’s talking about. The CDC says we’re going to have a terrible fall. Why? It poses a host of complexities.

“Schools are doing temperature checks on the way in and they’re looking for symptomatic children. First of all, symptomatic children. You don’t have to be symptomatic, as we’ve learned; it can be asymptomatic. But second of all, symptomatic children. You’re in flu season – who doesn’t have sniffles or a cough? I mean, to pick symptomatic children out of a line is going to be very, very hard. Second, all across the board, you’re going to have the same complexity.

“How do you do the flu tests and the COVID tests at the same time? Meaning, we have deployed almost all our lab capacity to do COVID tests. You know what our lab capacity normally did? HIV tests and flu tests. We now have everybody deployed doing COVID tests. They’re going to now need to reduce their COVID tests to do flu tests. We were so effective at commandeering testing capacity for COVID tests that there is no flex in the system.

“Department of Health, state Department of Health, is going to send out a letter today to every county health department asking just this question: ‘What plans have you made to perform the necessary flu tests, which commence basically in September, and COVID tests simultaneously?’ That letter’s going to go out today.

“This is going to be difficult and challenging. It will require a reduction in the number of COVID tests or in the turnaround time on COVID tests, and we already had issues on the turnaround time on COVID tests. So, we want to get ahead of this and that letter from the Department of Health is going to do that, and that letter goes out today. But I’m telling you, there’s going to be no easy answer to that riddle.

“No. 2, I want the schools that are doing their plans to reopen to take into consideration what we’ve seen in other schools, K to 12, what we’ve seen most recently in UNC, Notre Dame, 130 infected in one week, and they closed. The lesson to learn there is, yes, when you bring back a lot of people and put them in a congregate setting, you can have an increase. ‘Well, we told the students, socially distance.’ Yeah, I know. We’ve been telling young people to socially distance for the past six months. Go look at Manhattan on a Thursday night, Friday, Saturday night, and tell me how well they’ve been listening. You think their behavior’s going to change when they go back to school? One hundred thirty students in one week. That is a failure of the testing and contact tracing operations. It shouldn’t get to 130.

“Look at that, and then look at your school reopening plan, and how would you make sure you don’t wind up in that situation. What was your testing procedure? Could it have gotten that big that fast?

“Now, frankly, on a college, in some ways it’s not as bad, because the student was infecting other students. K to 12, if you had 130 students positive, it’s not 130, it’s 500, because the student would have gone home and dealt with people in their immediate family. You know in some ways being on a college campus is less problematic from a spread point of view than K-12. But I want the schools to take this situation into consideration and answer the question, ‘Would this have happened in your school? Could you have caught the spread before it got to 130 students?’ And if you can’t answer ‘Yes,’ then there’s a problem. But the basic point on both is opening schools, risky and problematic. That happens in September.

“In September the flu season starts. It’s going to make it much harder to diagnose symptomatic people; it’s going to make some people sick with the flu, which will then make them in a more serious situation if they get COVID – and then it’s going to really stress our testing capacity. That all happens in a matter of weeks. This is not over. The second wave is coming. It’s going to be more challenging.

“On top of that, we still have states all around us getting infected and quarantine facilities and procedures, and lack of compliance in bars and restaurants, which if I had to guess that lack of compliance is going to be transferred to college campuses all across the state. And we still have local police departments that are not stepping up and doing their job.”

Howard Zucker Letter

Here is the letter Cuomo referenced:

Dear Commissioner/Public Health Director:

The New York State Department of Health greatly appreciates the work of our Local Health Department (LHD) partners to date in our efforts to contain and prevent community transmission of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19). The Department is also grateful for and relies upon your commitment to protecting the public health going forward. 

As we enter now into an influenza season during an unprecedented pandemic, Governor Cuomo has directed my Department to ensure local communities have adequate testing capacity for both seasonal influenza and COVID-19 so that we can make sure limited testing, lab, and treatment resources are being utilized most effectively.

I am requesting detail about what plans for this fall your LHD has developed to provide residents of your county with sufficient availability of, access to, and information about both flu and COVID-19 tests. Your response will help inform the state's ongoing efforts to build a sufficient testing system to protect all New Yorkers.

If there are any issues or barriers your LHD can foresee that will make it more difficult to maintain sufficient testing capacity within your county, please note them specifically, and my team will work with yours to get them resolved.

Finally, in addition to adequate testing capacity, developing and implementing a robust influenza vaccination plan will help ensure we can continue to respond efficiently to the ongoing challenges of this pandemic, so please also provide information on specific steps your LHD is taking to increase vaccination rates in your communities.

Please share this information on plans for flu and COVID-19 testing and plans for flu vaccination, including any anticipated barriers, by 3 pm on Wednesday, August 26th to [email protected].

Thank you for all that you do and I look forward to our continued partnership in combating this pandemic.

Sincerely,

Howard A. Zucker, M.D. J.D.

Local Infection Rate Problematic

On Tuesday, Western New York once again had the highest positive test rate in the state, at 1.4%. Erie County reported 54 new cases, while Niagara County had nine positives. By comparison, of the 80,425 test results reported to New York that day, 631, or 0.78%, were positive.

The Niagara County Department of Health, on Wednesday, issued a warning that youth need to remain diligent, as they’re not immune from the coronavirus.

“We are very concerned that eight of the nine cases today are individuals under the age of 30, and were not directly tied to other positives of which we were previously aware,” Niagara County Public Health Director Daniel Stapleton said. “We cannot emphasize enough that young people are susceptible to COVID-19 and must take precautions like social distancing and wearing masks.”

 To date, Niagara County has had 1,538 positive cases, with 99 deaths and 1,406 people recovered.

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