Newsday is opening this story to all readers so Long Islanders have access to important information about the coronavirus outbreak. All readers can learn the latest news at newsday.com/LiveUpdates.
This story was reported by Rachelle Blidner, Matt Chayes, Candice Ferrette, Scott Eidler, Bart Jones, Sandra Peddie and David Reich-Hale. It was written by Jones.
Nearly 14% of New Yorkers have been infected with COVID-19, based on a new antibody study, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said Thursday, meaning the virus already may have afflicted as many as 2.7 million state residents.
The survey of about 3,000 people across regions found 13.9% had antibodies indicating they had been infected with the coronavirus.
Long Island had an infection reading of 16.7%, above the statewide figure but below New York City’s measure of 21.2%, Cuomo said at his daily news briefing in Albany.
That still gave Long Island the second-highest coronavirus infection measurement in the state, according to the random sample of people taken over the past few days outside grocery and other big-box stores.
If the study is accurate, it would mean a far greater number — nearly 10 times the amount — of New Yorkers have been infected with COVID-19 than the 263,000 confirmed cases the state has recorded through testing at locations including Stony Brook University and Jones Beach State Park.
The data, collected at 40 locations in 19 counties, led to a preliminary death rate calculation of 0.5% of those infected.
Cuomo said the study will help shape policies to curb the coronavirus and calibrate the reopening of the state's economy.
Until now, the most accurate measure the state had was the level of hospitalizations, tracking only those who got sick enough to seek medical assistance.
He cautioned that the data was preliminary.
"What does it mean? I don’t know,” Cuomo said. “These are people who were out and about shopping. They were not people who were in their homes, they were not people who were isolated, they were not people who were quarantined.”
A significant sample
At least one infectious disease expert said he believes the survey was accurate.
Dr. Bruce Farber, chief of infectious diseases at Northwell Health, said he thought the infection rate cited in the study was realistic because the study relied on a significant sample.
He also said he believed the actual number of people infected is much higher because so many people with the virus do not exhibit symptoms. An early study out of Iceland, which sampled roughly five times as many people as the New York study, found that 40% of infected people were asymptomatic.
“It wouldn’t surprise me that there are 10 times more people out there who are infected,” he said.
Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone estimated that if 16.7% of Suffolk residents had the virus, as the survey found for Long Island as a whole, then about 250,000 residents would have had it. But only about 30,000 people have tested positive.
“That tells us there are just a huge number of people who have had the virus who did not know they had it because either they were asymptomatic or assumed they had some other illness,” Bellone said.
The survey also “indicates to me, that if that many people have had the virus,” combining antibody testing, virus testing and “aggressive” contact tracing can contain the virus and help reopen the economy in phases, he said. The survey shows “how contagious this virus is” and “how quickly it moves."
Cuomo also announced Thursday that state authorities will investigate nursing homes throughout New York after multiple complaints from families that they have been unable to receive information about their loved ones and that some nursing homes have bungled their response to the pandemic.
The daily coronavirus death toll statewide remained below 500 for a fourth straight day, at 433, after hitting a high of nearly 800 two weeks ago. Cuomo called the latest toll still "breathtakingly tragic." The state has now lost 15,740 people to the virus, nearly triple the number of Iran and Germany.
Hospitalizations of new COVID-19 patients remained flat for the third straight day at about 1,350, a number Cuomo said was "not great," but was a drop from about 2,000 a day last week.
Intubations were down again, though Cuomo warned the state has a long fight ahead to completely slap down the virus.
Northwell Health said it has 2,335 COVID-19 patients at the 19 hospitals it owns and operates. That is its lowest number since March 31.
Deaths from COVID-19 continued to climb on Long Island. Nassau added 40 new deaths for a total of 1,471, according to state figures released Thursday. Suffolk added 33 new deaths for a total of 959. Long Island has lost 2,430 people in all, a figure that is approaching the death toll in New York from the 9/11 terrorist attack.
At his briefing, Cuomo fiercely criticized Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) for floating the idea this week that states declare bankruptcy to deal with the financial impact of the crisis.
“This is one of the really dumb ideas of all time,” Cuomo said. “States should declare bankruptcy? That’s how you’re going to bring this national economy back?
“You want to see that market fall through the cellar?” he went on. “Let New York State declare bankruptcy. Let Michigan declare bankruptcy. Let Illinois declare bankruptcy. Let California declare bankruptcy. You will see a collapse of this national economy.”
McConnell's remark also drew fire from a leading Republican congressman from Long Island, Peter King (R-Seaford), who called McConnell “the Marie Antoinette of the Senate” for proposing to take away funds for “cops, firefighters and health care workers.”
Further study needed
The latest state figures released Thursday, and reflecting the previous day’s totals, showed coronavirus cases continuing to mount on Long Island and throughout the state.
Nassau reported 569 new cases, for a total of 32,124. Suffolk reported 713 new cases, for a total of 29,567. New York City had 3,423 new positives for a total of 145,855.
Statewide, 6,244 new cases were reported, for a total of 263,460. That is more cases than any country in the world besides the United States as a whole, including hard-hit Spain, Italy, France and Germany.
In the antibody study, Long Island did "significantly worse" than Westchester and Rockland counties, where 11.7% tested positive even though the outbreak had an early start there with a hot spot in New Rochelle, Cuomo said.
The survey results showed a higher level of infections in the black and Hispanic communities, though Cuomo said those figures could be skewed to city residents, where the minority populations are larger.
Of those tested, 22.8% of people identified as multiracial or other, 22.5% of Latinos, 22.1% of blacks, 11.7% of Asians and 9.1% of whites were found positive for the antibodies, meaning they had recovered from the virus.
Cuomo said this warrants more study, including outreach to black and Latino communities in the Long Island region, through a network of "churches in those communities" that have volunteered to become testing sites.
Nassau County Executive Laura Curran said the county will ramp up testing of black and Latino residents. She said the county is set to open another testing site, in Elmont, after opening sites Wednesday in Hempstead and Freeport.
“This crisis is shining a bright light on the problem,” Curran said, referring to the disparities in what communities are hit hardest by the virus.
Curran noted Thursday evening that budget officials are forecasting a more than $300 million drop in revenues. “Such a drastic revenue decline in such a short period of time is devastating to our ability to operate," she said. "A difficult road lies ahead.”
Bellone said Suffolk has been doing testing in hot spots, including Brentwood, Huntington, Riverhead, Wyandanch and North Amityville, with large populations of Latinos and African Americans — and found high infection levels.
Of 1,077 tests administered at hot spots and received back, 577 were positive. That translates into a 53% infection level, he said. The county average is about 40%.
Earlier Thursday, New York City Health Commissioner Dr. Oxiris Barbot said the number of COVID-19 infections in the city is likely much higher than the more than 138,000 laboratory-confirmed cases.
"It wouldn't surprise me if, at this point in time, we have probably close to a million New Yorkers who have been exposed to COVID-19," she said Thursday at a virtual news conference with Mayor Bill de Blasio.
While new hospital admissions and the number of intensive care patients are down in the city, de Blasio said much still needs to be done in the fight.
“Don’t give an inch here. Do not relax,” he said.