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Cuomo: New York State hospitals can't send positive COVID-19 patients to nursing homes

Governor Cuomo on Sunday said COVID-19 numbers have decreased in such a way that we are "right back to where we started this hellish journey." Credit: Facebook / Governor Andrew Cuomo

This story was reported by Rachelle Blidner, Lisa L. Colangelo, Michael O'Keeffe, David Olson, Keldy Ortiz and David M. Schwartz. It was written by Colangelo.

Hospitals can no longer discharge patients into nursing homes unless they test negative for COVID-19, and nursing home workers will be tested twice weekly for the virus, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced Sunday.

The changes are part of tougher new guidelines for nursing homes statewide, where COVID-19 has taken a deadly toll among some members of the state’s most susceptible population. Cuomo's administration has faced criticism that it hasn't done enough to protect nursing home residents.

“It’s where the virus feeds,” Cuomo said Sunday during his daily news briefing. “This virus uses nursing homes.”

The governor also said new COVID-19 cases and deaths continued to fall but like New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio earlier Sunday, he expressed concerns about a coronavirus-linked illness affecting children that has killed a Suffolk teenager and two other youngsters in the state.

The number of new COVID-19 cases statewide was down to 521, Cuomo said, about the same as on March 20 when the state shut down nonessential businesses and asked New Yorkers to shelter in their homes — a drastic effort to stop the spread of the coronavirus.

The number of new deaths across the state from COVID-19 is 207, Cuomo said, adding that the number is an improvement but still “terribly high.”

“It’s been a painful period of time between March 20 and May 9,” Cuomo said.

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New Yorkers who follow social distancing rules and other precautions have helped “turn the tide,” the governor said.

The new rule on hospital discharges follows a March 25 state order that required nursing homes to accept former residents and new patients with COVID-19 — or suspected of having the virus but declared medically stable and discharged from hospitals — or transfer them to another facility.

From the onset, nursing homes and advocates have protested the March order, arguing that it endangered nursing home residents by allowing infected patients into facilities with some of those most at risk. 

Stephen Hanse, president and CEO of NYS Health Facilities Association, which represents nursing homes, said in a statement Sunday: “We are grateful that hospitals can no longer discharge new patients into nursing homes that have tested positive or were suspected to have COVID-19.”

He said the state’s action on Sunday “acknowledges the concerns providers voiced over the March 25 Department of Health advisory and we must continue to work together to implement solutions to assist long-term care providers.”

Cuomo and his administration said those entering nursing homes from areas other than hospitals still couldn't be refused entry based solely on being COVID-19 positive but had to be properly separated from other residents. 

Also as part of the guidelines, nursing homes must transfer patients if they cannot provide them appropriate care. Facilities that do not follow the guidelines will lose their license, the governor said.

Through Friday, 1,161 Long Island nursing home patients have died from COVID-19, according to the latest state statistics. Another 67 residents have died at assisted living facilities. The figures only include residents who died at the facilities, and not those who succumbed at hospitals. 

Representatives from some hospital systems expressed concern over the new guidelines.

Dr. Maria Carney, head of geriatrics and palliative medicine for Northwell Health, said in an email that the hospital system has followed the state's directives closely during the pandemic but the nursing home guidelines "may lead to prolonged hospitalization stays for a chronically frail population. This has risks too and no path is simple here."

A spokeswoman for Catholic Health Services of Long Island, which operates hospitals and other care facilities in Nassau and Suffolk, said Cuomo's order "will create some delay in discharges but we are confident that we can successfully manage this change."

"As previously directed, our nursing homes have been accepting COVID-19 positive patients," said spokeswoman Chris Hendriks. "We have been able to appropriately care for them by creating separated, dedicated units apart from non-positive residents."

Earlier Sunday, de Blasio said a coronavirus-linked illness affecting youngsters had city health officials "tremendously concerned," and he urged parents to seek medical attention if their children show signs of persistent fever, rash, abdominal pains or vomiting. 

Three children statewide, including the Suffolk teen, have died from pediatric multi-system inflammatory syndrome illness, Cuomo said. Two more deaths are under investigation.

New York hospitals have reported 85 cases of the illness in children, mostly toddlers or elementary-school age, Cuomo said Sunday.

"The virus has been ahead of us every step of the way," the governor said at his update. "We thought it wasn't affecting children and now we find out it may be affecting children."

De Blasio said 38 cases of the syndrome have been diagnosed in New York City, and nine more are under review.

Cuomo announced the first New York death from the disease Friday — a 5-year-old New York City boy — and said the state is investigating several other child deaths.

Westchester County officials Friday said a 7-year-old boy died at a Valhalla hospital of neurological complications from the syndrome.

The Suffolk teenager's hometown or where the youth died remained unclear Sunday.

The disease causes inflammation of the blood vessels and complications that can include inflamed heart muscles and breathing problems, experts say. 

Separately, de Blasio said the MTA's unusual move to shut down the subways overnight for a deep cleaning resulted in hundreds of homeless people agreeing to go to shelters or hospitals with the help of outreach workers on Friday and Saturday night.

“Now we will be able to get them the mental health support, the substance misuse treatment, now we will really be able to change the lives of so many of them for good,” de Blasio said.

In Nassau, County Executive Laura Curran said Sunday she has asked the county's health department and area hospitals to be on alert for any patients exhibiting symptoms related to pediatric multi-system inflammatory syndrome.

In a statement, Curran said Nassau "continues to move in the right direction" and recorded a new low of 189 new COVID-19 cases Sunday — less than 10% of all cases being tested. To date, there are a total of 38,217 cases in the county and 1,963 deaths, including 45 new fatalities reported Sunday.

Meanwhile, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone said Sunday that another 20 people had died of COVID-19, bringing the county’s total death toll to 1,617.

The state put Suffolk's confirmed cases count at 36,702. 

Antibody tests done over the past week with Northwell Health showed that about 6% of Suffolk law enforcement officers have tested positive, a figure county officials called “extraordinary” considering Long Island’s positive rate for antibody tests is about 11.4%.

Of 1,115 antibody results received so far, only 65 officers have tested positive, officials said. The majority of the 1,752 tested were Suffolk police officers.

Additionally, no county police officers have tested positive for the virus in 10 days, Police Commissioner Geraldine Hart said.

“That’s pretty remarkable,” Hart said.

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