BUFFALO, N.Y. (WKBW) — Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has been praised for his daily news briefings on the coronavirus, but a remark he made Wednesday morning is catching some by surprise.
Within the last week, officials in Erie and Niagara counties have been sounding the alarm about a shortage of COVID-19 tests.
“We stand ready to perform that swabbing,” Niagara County public health director Daniel Stapleton said on March 18. “We have a plan in place. We need to get those supplies before we can put that plan into action.”
Last week, Erie County health commissioner Dr. Gale Burstein said, “We’ll probably have to limit testing to people who are high-risk of exposure to other individuals who could become very ill or vulnerable to severe disease from COVID-19.”
But at his daily briefing this morning, Cuomo suggested that testing at local hospitals was no longer a problem.
“Any hospital in the state can perform testing,” Cuomo said. “You can walk into a hospital in Buffalo, New York...if you show the symptoms and meet the protocol, you can be tested.”
That came as a surprise to some health officials, as well as former Republican State Assemblyman Ray Walter, who wrote on Twitter, “This is not the message we are getting from Erie County officials.”
Walter, a former challenger to Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz, declined to elaborate because he said he did not want his remarks to be viewed as political in the midst of a public health crisis.
But online, Walter pointed to Cuomo’s own statistics, which show that Erie County ranks ninth in the state for positive cases, but is not in the Top 10 for total people tested.
Kaleida Health released the following statement: “We continue to prioritize testing for our own workforce to ensure that we maintain the health and well-being of our incredibly hardworking and dedicated staff. We have been conducting our own COVID-19 employee testing for the past few days through our Kaleida Health Laboratories.
“Acknowledging that in-house testing is an extraordinarily limited resource at this time, we have limited it to our own workforce and our patients who are deemed critical priorities. A critical priority is one whose clinical status is such that having a test result in 12-24 hours will result in a significant change in the way in which that patient is managed."
And while Catholic Health has announced plans to test hundreds of people per day, there has been no public announcement that the system is ready to do so. A spokeswoman for Catholic Health did not respond to a request for comment.
An aide to Poloncarz said he is expected to address the issue at his 3 p.m. news briefing.
The remarks also come as hospitals are working to create a 50 percent “surge capacity” as ordered by the governor to address the expected bed shortage as COVID-19 cases are expected to spike in the next few weeks.
According to Kaleida Health chief of staff Michael P. Hughes, the hospital is considering multiple options to expand capacity, including:
- Re-opening beds at DeGraff Memorial Hospital.
- Creating ICU beds at Bradford Regional, Buffalo
General, DeGraff, Millard Fillmore Suburban, Oishei Children’s and Olean General hospitals.
- Doubling up private rooms and converting old hospital rooms and space.