New York City will begin manufacturing its own test kits for the coronavirus and has locked down a supply of 100,000 per week from its own factories and an Indiana-based company, Mayor Bill de Blasio said Tuesday.
The city has been short on testing since it discovered its first cases of COVID-19, hampering its ability to contain an outbreak that has exploded to at least 106,813 cases. As New York begins to look ahead to eventually reopening its economy, the inability to test on a wide scale looms as a major obstacle.
“We have scoured the world looking for test kits on the open market. It’s been extraordinarily frustrating,” de Blasio said. “We’ve had so many good people searching everywhere just to buy the test kits to get a reliable supply. It has not been possible.”
Starting in May, New York City companies will be producing 50,000 test kits a week, de Blasio said. Research labs, local manufacturers and 3D printing companies will participate in the effort.
The city has also reached a deal to buy 50,000 tests a week from a Carmel, Ind., company, Aria Diagnostics. Last week, the Indiana city donated 50,000 kits to New York.
“I’m sure New Yorkers wouldn’t have thought the cavalry would come from Carmel, Ind., but it has,” de Blasio said. The purchases from Indiana will begin on Monday.
While the city’s outbreak has begun to show signs of leveling off, it suffered a few setbacks in the latest stats. New hospitalizations declined, but the number of people in ICUs for the coronavirus increased to 850 on Sunday from 835 the day before. The number of tests coming back positive also increased.
“We had a really good day yesterday,” de Blasio said. “Today, no such luck.”
The number of tests being performed on patients suspected of having COVID-19 has plummeted in recent days.
On April 6, the city administered 10,241 tests, according to city reports, marking the highest volume since the outbreak began. Four days later, just 25 people were tested, according to the stats. That is the lowest volume since the pandemic started.
A swab shortage is likely one of the reasons behind the drop. Despite their simplicity — the tool resembles long Q-tips that reach into the nasal cavity of those suspected of having the disease — the city’s hospital system is running extremely low.
“As the swab supply continues to decline, there is a real possibility hospitals will completely run out,” Demetre Daskalakis, deputy commissioner at the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, wrote in an alert to health care providers Saturday.
Daskalakis recommended testing only hospitalized patients to conserve the limited supply of the absorbent sticks.
The mayor declined to say how much the city is paying for the test kits from Aria, or to name the New York City companies that will be making them now.
De Blasio said the city began to probe its own manufacturing capabilities after hitting a wall repeatedly when asking for more tests from the federal government.
“There’s nothing like it in New York City being made right now. Nothing even close. But could we make them here if we just threw in the kitchen sink?” he said. “If people can make them around the world, why not us?”
Even the 400,000 kits a month will not be enough to offer widespread testing to the city’s 8.6 million people. To start, people vulnerable to the disease because of age and chronic health conditions will be prioritized, de Blasio said.
“We have struggled to just have the testing for patients who are really sick, for health care workers, for first responders,” de Blasio said. “Then, of course, we want to target communities that are hardest hit and the most vulnerable individuals.”
For the city to begin to lift its stay-at-home rules, it will need to be able to test more people to determine who can work and who must be quarantined.
New York companies have also turned their efforts toward manufacturing protective gear for doctors and nurses, who have complained of being put in danger by insufficient supplies.
Eight firms at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, Brooklyn Army Terminal and in Manhattan are now making face shields, and in the next few weeks expect to make enough to supply all the city hospitals’ needs.
“New York City will be self-sufficient. We will no longer be at the whim of either the federal government [or] the international markets,” de Blasio said.
Manufacturers also are working on making protective gowns, which are in such short supply that the city has been seeking rain ponchos for doctors and nurses to use instead, reported The Wall Street Journal. That effort is not as far along, with only 30,000 gowns per week being made so far, but the number is expected to rise to 100,000 by next week.
Politico: New York City to manufacture its own coronavirus testing kits
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