New York is the epicenter of America’s COVID-19 outbreak, but deaths there have been on a decline — and new data suggests that infections have been much more widespread than thought.
A full 25% of New York City residents sampled already have coronavirus antibodies, the state’s governor Andrew Cuomo (D) said at his press conference on Monday, according to the Washington Examiner. Despite these stunning results, Gov. Cuomo is making no promises about when he might open up the state.
Virus more widespread than thought
A previous round of antibody tests revealed last week that millions of New Yorkers were probably infected already — including one in five New York City residents. The testing sparked speculation that the virus was more widespread — and potentially less deadly — than previously believed.
A fresh round of testing this week kept pointing in that direction: testing of another 4,500 New Yorkers — on top of the original 3,000 — found that 25% of those New York City residents, a 5% increase, have likely already had the virus. Statewide, the number of antibody positives is almost 15% a 1% increase that is within the survey’s margin of error.
“That’s a very significant number,” Cuomo said, according to the New York Post. “It gives us a snapshot of where we are. It’s just a snapshot, but ‘snapshot, snapshot, snapshot’…and you have a movie,” he said.
The antibody tests suggest that many more New Yorkers have been infected than the state’s known 300,000 or so cases. New York — and especially the New York City metro area — has by far more infections and deaths than any part of the country, with 18,000 known deaths in New York alone.
The devastation in the state has largely set the model for lockdowns nationwide — something that has been a matter of controversy, with 26 million Americans put out of work in just the last few weeks, as reported by NBC News. While some governors have started opening up their states, others have said that more developed testing and contact tracing capacities are needed first.
Time to open up?
It’s not certain if antibody testing in fact proves immunity — experts say they’re not even sure if recovering from the virus provides lasting protection — and it’s also unclear how accurate antibody tests truly are, according to CBS News. But results in other states have painted a similar pattern, pointing to much more widespread infections, The Hill reported. And in New York, the peak of the pandemic appears to be passing, as Cuomo himself has acknowledged.
Deaths in the state are at their lowest in weeks, although still high, with 330 on Wednesday, down from daily fatalities in the 700s earlier this month. Hospitalizations have also been down.
So, is it time to start opening up the state? Not so fast, Cuomo says.
The state’s lockdown, called PAUSE, will end on May 15, but lockdowns will likely be extended in some areas, like the hard-hit New York metro area, Cuomo has said. Regions other than the New York metro — which not surprisingly, showed lower percentages in the antibody tests — could open sooner. The re-opening will happen in phases, according to federal guidelines that require data showing consistent declines in hospitalizations, and businesses will open in a cascade based on how “essential” they are deemed to be.
If the virus and subsequent recoveries from it are more widespread in the country’s acknowledged epicenter — and the peak appears to have passed there — what does that mean for the rest of the country?