COVID-19 tests are offered at an urgent care center in...

COVID-19 tests are offered at an urgent care center in Patchogue last week. Credit: Newsday / Steve Pfost

Positive COVID-19 cases across New York State have plunged 75% since the peak of the winter surge, Gov. Kathy Hochul said Tuesday, as the federal government took steps to distribute half a billion free at-home test kits throughout the United States.

The site, COVIDtests.gov, was set to go live on Wednesday but started taking orders Tuesday as part of a beta phase to test out the online portal. People can sign up to receive four free tests per household through the U.S. Postal Service. The tests are expected to ship in 7 to 12 days.

"Every website launch in our view comes with risk, we can't guarantee there won't be a bug or two, but the best tech teams across the administration and the Postal Service are working hard to make this a success, so we will officially launch tomorrow morning," White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Tuesday when asked about the site.

Hochul said the state's declining COVID-19 statistics were more evidence the winter surge, fueled by the highly contagious omicron variant, is ending.

What to know

  • Positive COVID-19 cases across New York State have plunged 75% since the peak of the winter surge, Gov. Kathy Hochul said Tuesday
  • The federal government on Tuesday launched a portal, COVIDtests.gov, where people can sign up to receive four free tests per household through the U.S Postal Service.
  • Experts cautioned against underestimating the virus, noting it can spread very rapidly at a certain tipping point of 5% or so.

On Tuesday, the state reported 22,312 new cases of COVID-19, including 1,187 in Nassau County and 1,426 in Suffolk County. That's down from 90,132 less than two weeks ago, for a statewide daily rate of new positive cases of just over 12%.

It was over 22% on Jan. 5

"That's incredible," Hochul said.

Cases have been dropping steadily in recent days, following health experts' prediction that the variant would follow its trend in other countries of having a quick rise and steep fall.

Daily Positivity Rate

Nassau: 13.4%

Suffolk: 14.4% 

Statewide: 12.48%

7-day Positivity Rate

Nassau: 16.9%

Suffolk: 18.3% 

Statewide: 15.04%

Source: New York State Department of Health

Hochul also said hospitalizations due to COVID-19 are trending downward. Statewide, they were at 11,928 on Monday, a slight drop from over 12,000 almost every day last week.

"We hope to close the books on this winter surge soon," she said at the start of her budget address, pledging to focus on the "post-pandemic future."

Hospitalizations from COVID-19 have likely crested or leveled out, said Dr. David Battinelli, executive vice president and physician in chief at New Hyde Park-based Northwell Health.

"It's not so clear it's going to precipitously fall off," he said, "That's the hope but it hasn't happened yet."

Battinelli cautioned against underestimating the virus, noting that it can spread very rapidly at a certain tipping point of 5% or so.

"We follow the science, which means we follow the facts and based on whatever happens, we make adjustments," he said. "The way to best protect ourselves is to be fully vaccinated, boost as many times as the science tells us. … We are attempting to prevent as much infection as possible, but more importantly than preventing infection, has always been to prevent serious illness and mitigate the extent of disease."

New York City officials also spoke of a decline across the five boroughs.

Cases of COVID-19 have fallen in the city to below 20,000 on a daily seven-day average, from a high of nearly 43,000 earlier in January, said the city's health commissioner, Dr. Dave Chokshi, on Tuesday. And hospitalizations related to COVID-19 are down too: from 6,500 on Jan. 11 to 5,800 on Sunday, he said.

Mayor Eric Adams said the decline in citywide case numbers didn't eliminate the need for masking, vaccination, distancing and other measures, though he's optimistic that cases would keep dropping.

"The level of cases in New York City — they are declining," Adams said at a news conference at City Hall. He added: "We are winning, we are winning, and we are going to win."

Even though the virus and its variants are unpredictable, health experts said the choices people make can make a difference in mitigating their impact.

"I think the main lesson is that a lot of this is driven by human behavior more than the variants themselves," said Sean Clouston, an associate professor of public health at Stony Brook University. "Whether people go out or don’t go out, whether they wear masks or not — we can make policies and we can make decisions that affect our risk directly. And even in the face a new variants, even highly transmissible variants, there are things we can do."

The demand for COVID-19 testing on Long Island remains strong. State officials said the testing site in Hauppauge averaged about 243 tests a day between Jan.1 and Jan. 11. The state-run testing location in Hempstead averaged about 310 tests a day during that period.

People searching for at-home tests are still seeing empty shelves in pharmacies. Federal officials said they only need to supply their name and mailing address to get the free tests through the COVIDtests.gov portal.

People who provide an email address can get shipping updates. Officials said a free call line is being created to help people who don't have internet access or need assistance placing an order.

Clouston said making at-home COVID-19 tests more available could help alleviate backups in emergency rooms and other sites where people are seeking tests even though they are not ill.

"I don't think four is enough, to be honest with you," he said. "Once [COVID-19] gets into a family, it can pass to everyone in a family. There won't be enough to cover one round of testing with everyone. So it might be helpful, but there's a huge need."

With Laura Figueroa Hernandez

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