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Cuomo warns coronavirus is far from over

Office of the Governor

Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Wednesday that the rate of positive coronavirus tests was below 1% for the 12th day in New York. But he also said it’s not time to be complacent and predicted there could be worse to come this fall.

Cuomo said it’s “great news” that the infection rate was at 0.78% for Tuesday. The results of 80,425 coronavirus tests showed 631 New Yorkers tested positive. Six people died of the disease. 

But the governor said even though the infection rate has been under 1% for nearly two weeks now, there are worries on the horizon as schools reopen, fall weather forces more people into confined indoor spaces, and flu season begins.

The governor, on a conference call with reporters, likened the present moment to halftime in a football game. 

“And we ended the first half in good shape after a brutal first half and we're in the locker room,” the governor said. “COVID is not over by any stretch of the imagination, and the feeling of complacency poses an obstacle in and of itself."

Cuomo is not the only one expressing concerns. Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, and Dr. Robert Redfield, the director of the Centers for Disease Control, also predict a worsening public health crisis if more of the nation does not wear masks or practice safe social distancing. 

Redfield spoke recently in an interview with WebMD. 

“This could be the worst fall, from a public health perspective, we've ever had,” Redfield said. 

Cuomo said the onset of the flu season will pose other challenges, such as how to accurately screen for COVID-19 in schools that fully or partially reopen. He said many of the disease's symptoms, like fever, sniffles or a cough, are similar to the flu. 

He predicted that the flu season will put an added strain on the overburdened disease-testing system in the state and could lead to a further slowdown for obtaining timely results of coronavirus tests. 

“How do you do the flu tests and the COVID tests at the same time?” the governor asked. “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.”

Cuomo’s health department has sent a letter to county health directors around the state, asking them what steps they are taking to prepare to process flu and coronavirus tests simultaneously. 

There is lingering uncertainty about K-12 classes even reopening, with some school districts around the state deciding to delay in-person classes until October. The teachers union in New York City, the United Federation of Teachers, is warning that there are not enough safety precautions in place for the schools to partially reopen on Sept. 10. 

There’s also growing concern about the safety of colleges and universities fully reopening. The University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, which opened its campus earlier this month, abruptly shut down in-person classes after students and staff became infected with the virus. The University of Notre Dame canceled in-person classes for two weeks after over 140 students became infected. 

Other schools, including Ithaca College, have reversed their policies to reopen and now will offer online classes for fall. 

Cuomo called the outbreaks at the colleges a “failure of testing and tracing” but admitted it is difficult to convince 19- and 20-year-olds to practice safe social distancing and to take other precautions. He said he’s asking universities in New York to take another look at their reopening plans. 

“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?' ” Cuomo said. “ And if you can't answer yes, then there's a problem.”

The governor said just like at halftime at a football game, now is the time to sift through what went right and what went wrong so far and to try to do better in the second half.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau Chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 public radio stations in New York State. WBFO listeners are accustomed to hearing DeWitt’s insightful coverage throughout the day, including expanded reports on Morning Edition.
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