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WNY COVID-19 testing: Concerns and comparisons

Posted at 6:35 PM, Apr 02, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-02 18:35:44-04

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WKBW) — New York is testing for COVID-19 more than any other state in the country. As of Thursday morning, 238,965 people across the state have undergone testing for the virus and less than half of those are positive.

“I don’t think we’ll have the capacity to test every single resident of the state of New York. That would literally take if we did a million a day, that would take almost 20 days straight of nothing but testing and that’s just not possible,” New York Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul said.

Hochul added the state is “doing its very best” to ensure those who need a test, get a test. However, she said it’s important to prioritize those on the front lines like health care workers. In Erie County, that’s exactly who is being tested.

“In Erie County, our testing hasn’t been widespread,” Dr. Thomas Russo, Chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases at UB’s Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, said. He continued, “We would like more widespread testing, but at this point, we haven’t quite had it yet.”

On Thursday, County Commissioner of Health, Dr. Gale Burstein, reported Erie County has tested more than 2,000 people.

“People in Erie County are being tested,” Dr. Burstein said. She continued, “We only have a finite number of tests right now. Hopefully that won’t be the case forever. Right now, it is. So we have to be very smart with how we use them.”

To compare to other municipalities, on Wednesday the Erie County Executive tweeted 2,210 residents have been tested. Just down the 90, Onondaga County tested 3,779 people. That’s 1,500 more residents and yet Onondaga County has about half the population of Erie County.

“We have to work within the reality and the reality is that there is a limited number, a finite number of tests for the time being and therefore we have prioritized them the way the CDC has recommended,” Erie County Deputy Executive, Maria Whyte, said.

Dr. Russo said from a medical standpoint – most will self-resolve for this illness, so although not ideal many cannot be tested, it’s still important those individuals stay at home and isolated, to limit the spread to others.

“Though we would like those tests, I think the strategy and the less than excellent situation that we’ve adopted is at least working for us. We’re doing the best we can with what we have,” Dr. Russo said.

Dr. Russo said it’s a lack of reagents and nasal swabs limiting the county’s ability to test.

Officials agree and blame it on a stockpile issue. During a Thursday press conference, Dr. Burstein said this isn’t limited to Erie County. It is a statewide and nationwide issue.

“If we had more testing available, we would test more of other essential employees, people working in grocery stores and childcare providers…and people working in nursing homes. However, those are a limited number of tests so following trends is really difficult because we don’t know what the total – if we can generalize that to rest of the population,” Dr. Burstein said.

“At some point, we’ll be able to restore the stockpiles that we should’ve had in the first place, but the federal government never sent out the alarm early enough to have mass production,” Hochul said.