Coronavirus News: All New York state pharmacies will be able to test for COVID-19

NEW YORK (WABC) -- In a significant step forward in the effort to test more New Yorkers, Gov. Andrew Cuomo Saturday said he was signing an executive order allowing the state's roughly 5,000 independent pharmacies to test people for COVID-19.

Some pharmacies that are part of larger chains have already been collecting specimens, but the order will soon allow all pharmacies to do so. These tests would cover diagnosis of the illness and would not check for antibodies that would show whether an individual has already been exposed.

It wasn't clear when any person seeking a test could simply visit their neighborhood pharmacy and get one, but the move could be a game changer for people concerned they are sick and officials seeking to get a more complete picture of the extent of the infections. Widespread testing has been cited as a key factor in resuming the normal rhythms of life and commerce in America.

"If your local drugstore can now become a collection site, people can go to their local drugstore," Cuomo said, sketching a far more simplified and accessible way to administer testing for the virus that has killed over 16,000 New Yorkers and crippled the regional economy.

The governor said the state's 300 labs have gotten more equipment and supplies that he hopes will allow them to double the number of tests the state processes in a day from around 20,000 up to 40,000. With the labs able to handle more tests, Cuomo said the focus is now on increasing the availability of collection sites for samples, including the pharmacies. The governor said the state will also expand eligibility for testing, beginning with first responders, health care workers, and essential employees.

As part of the widening of testing, Cuomo announced an expansion of diagnostic testing criteria so that first responders, front-line healthcare workers and essential workers can all be checked for COVID-19 antibodies.

Starting Saturday, front-line healthcare workers at Bellevue, Elmhurst, Montefiore, SUNY Downstate Hospitals will begin to get antibody tests.

Next week, MTA and transit workers along with members of the NYPD and State Police will also be able to get antibody testing.

The governor noted that the "hell" that the state has lived through has only been 56 days, but he said that the actions taken have allowed for 100,000 fewer infections than first projected.

The governor announced Saturday that 437 new deaths occurred on Friday, up from 422 the day before. Sounding a note of hope, The governor said total hospitalizations were down again and the number of new cases dropped to around 1,100.

"We are in fact on the downside of the mountain," referring to progress in flattening the curve.

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