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New York discussing use of rapid testing to allow fans at Buffalo Bills playoff game

Gov. Andrew Cuomo said the state may allow

Gov. Andrew Cuomo said the state may allow 6,700 fans to attend a Buffalo Bills game next month by using rapid-testing and contact tracing. Cuomo said the experiment would be the first of its kind in the nation. Credit: NYS Governor's Office

This story was reported by Matthew Chayes, Bart Jones, David Olson and David Reich-Hale. It was written by Jones.

New York may allow 6,700 fans to attend the first Buffalo Bills playoff game next month by using rapid testing for COVID-19 beforehand in what Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo called the first experiment of its kind in the nation.

The testing model could allow the state to begin to reopen major venues and events along with businesses such as restaurants that are under restrictions while health officials race to vaccinate the bulk of the population — a process that some experts now say could last well into the second half of 2021.

"We can’t go through nine months of restaurants shut," Cuomo said at a news briefing in Albany. "We have to come up with a smarter way to do this."

The proposal was discussed on a day in which Long Island again surpassed 2,000 new confirmed cases.

The possibility of allowing fans who test negative for the virus into the Bills game is under review by state health officials, who have concerns about "ancillary" events surrounding the game, such as large gatherings outside the stadium.

The plan would include contact tracing after the game, state officials said. Fans would be required to wear masks and physically distance inside the stadium.

"This would be the beginning to start to show how you could start events with testing" and other mitigation measures, state budget director Robert Mujica said.

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He called it "the first in the nation."

Still, state Health Commissioner Howard Zucker said he remains concerned about gatherings of fans at other venues.

"We can control how fans come into the stadium … but the ancillary events, the parties … where the virus can spread … so how do we control that? That is really the question, that is what we are working on as well," Zucker said.

New York pro sports teams, including the Knicks, Mets, Nets, Rangers and Yankees, have been playing games this year in fanless stadiums because of the pandemic. The Giants and Jets have done the same in New Jersey.

Watching for U.K. variant

The governor called again for the federal government to control the spread of a new variant of the coronavirus found in the United Kingdom.

"Why aren’t we saying test the travelers in the U.K. before they get on the plane?" to come here, Cuomo said.

This week, he announced that the three airlines with flights from the U.K. to New York will require negative test results from all passengers.

New York City will check that those travelers comply with the state's quarantine order, Mayor Bill de Blasio said Wednesday.

"We're going to have sheriff's deputies go to the home or the hotel of every single traveler coming in from the U.K.," he said.

As with travelers from nearly every other place, visitors from the U.K. must isolate for 14 days under state rules. The fine for violating the order is $1,000 a day.

A health care worker in New York City has had "a significant allergic reaction" to the coronavirus vaccine, which 30,000 people in the boroughs have received without incident, according to the city Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

The worker was treated and is in stable condition, the department wrote in a news release Wednesday. The reaction was the first "serious adverse event" in the city connected to the vaccine, according to the release.

89,000 New Yorkers vaccinated

New York has vaccinated about 89,000 people with the first of the two doses required for the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines, Cuomo said. They include 22,000 residents and staff members at 90 nursing homes over the last two days.

Cuomo said some vials from Moderna have been shown to hold 11 doses rather than 10 as originally believed, allowing for more shots. Pfizer's vaccine also has been shown to hold more than the five doses per vial initially believed.

The Northwell Health network has vaccinated 10,000 of its staffers, said its president and CEO, Michael J. Dowling. He said with enough supplies, the health system could vaccinate its 74,000 employees within three weeks.

"One of the biggest issues is if we can get enough vaccines," Dowling said. "We don’t know from week to week how many vaccines we are going to get."

At the same time, the number of people hospitalized with the virus statewide increased by 203 on Tuesday, to 6,864, according to state data. A total of 164 people died of causes related to COVID-19.

The positivity level in testing results from Tuesday was 5.84%, including oversampled hot spots. The level was 6.41% on Long Island and 4.28% in New York City.

The number of new cases was 1,015 in Nassau and 1,239 in Suffolk, for a total of 2,254. New York City had 4,373 new cases.

"Once again, today’s number of new COVID-19 cases has reached troubling levels," Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone said. "Over the course of the last week, a positivity rate above 7 percent has become common, rather than just a one-day spike.

"Christmas in now only two days away," he added, "and if we do not take the proper precautions, it is safe to say that the worst of this virus may still be ahead of us."

Nassau County Executive Laura Curran also urged caution.

"We can all can use some holiday cheer," she said, "but let’s keep using common sense so we can avoid shutdowns while we await wider vaccine distribution."

State: No damage to field hospitals

Five tent-like field hospitals at Stony Brook University that were built during the spring COVID-19 surge but never used escaped unscathed from last week's storm, a Cuomo spokesman said.

The state had removed "fabric tenting materials" as well as fixtures and equipment from the five structures before the storm to prevent damage, spokesman Colin Brennan said in an email last week. But that left the frame and hospital-grade linoleum flooring exposed to the elements.

Brennan said Wednesday there was no damage identified, including to the floor. The five structures "were closely monitored throughout the duration of, and in the days following, last week’s large winter storm," he said in an email Tuesday. "We’re proud to report that the state’s preparations worked as predicted, and no facility incurred damage."

Brennan said if damage were to be found to the flooring that wouldn’t impact the ability to care for patients. The state could use gymnasiums and other indoor structures to care for patients if necessary, he said.

Last week, Brennan said that if the tents are needed for patients, a "quick winterization" could occur. The temporary hospitals could hold more than 1,000 patients.

Brennan wrote Tuesday that, "As these sites are not currently operational, the [canvas] tenting material will remain off of the framing in anticipation of future winter storms."

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