ALBANY — Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced an appropriation of $40 million in emergency funding to the state Health Department on Wednesday to address the growing concern around the spread of coronavirus.
Last month, a new coronavirus, also known as COVID-19, was first detected in Wuhan City, Hubei Province, China, that was not previously found in humans. This novel coronavirus can lead to fever, cough and shortness of breath, according to the state Health Department.
The $40 million appropriation will be used to hire additional staff, procure equipment and any other resources necessary to respond to the potential novel coronavirus pandemic. Cuomo spoke to legislators about the appropriation and they were supportive, he said.
The department will convene local health departments and hospitals statewide to review protocols, best practices and procedures to help ensure they are prepared to combat the spread of the disease, according to a statement from the governor’s office.
“There are currently 53 cases of people who have tested positive for the coronavirus in the United States,” Cuomo said Wednesday afternoon from the Red Room in the state Capitol. “It’s highly probable you will see a continuing spread of this virus. It’s highly probable that we will have people in New York state who test positive. New York is the front door internationally — we have people traveling here from many other countries. No one should be surprised when we have positive cases in New York.”
The department has tested 27 people for potential cases of the disease, including six people in New York City and 20 others in the rest of the state. As of press time Wednesday, 26 of the cases were negative with one pending case in Nassau County, Cuomo said.
“Our operating paradigm is: ‘Prepare for the worst and hope for the best,’” the governor said. “Whether it’s SARS or Ebola or Zika or Legionnaire’s [disease], we took every moment very seriously.”
Coronavirus has a mortality rate of about 2% — higher than the flu’s 0.1% to 0.2%, but lower than Ebola’s mortality rate of 50%, state Department of Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker said.
Columbia Memorial Health, which has eight locations in Columbia and Greene counties including Columbia Memorial Hospital in Hudson, is working diligently to prepare for a potential virus outbreak, Columbia Memorial Health spokesman William Van Slyke said.
“Columbia Memorial Health has a procedure in place to quickly identify and isolate any patients identified as being high risk for COVID-19,” Van Slyke said. “We do not have any patients meeting the criteria to be tested for the virus, no patients are being quarantined and there are no COVID-19-related restrictions in place for employees or visitors.
“We will continue to closely monitor guidance from the CDC and NYSDOH, and will modify our plans as the situation dictates,” he said.
U.S. Rep. Antonio Delgado, D-19, called on state and federal officials to aggressively prepare for the potential spread of coronavirus, adding President Donald Trump’s proposed $25 million cut from the CDC’s Public Health Preparedness program is disturbing.
“We need to have a defense system and make sure we’re protecting public health,” Delgado said during a press call earlier Wednesday. “It’s concerning the president’s budget made significant proposed cuts to the CDC because we have to be ready. We have to make sure we’re communicating with China and other countries that are being impacted and make sure we are requiring transparency across the country and across the globe. I encourage the administration to be incredibly diligent and to not do anything that would undermine our ability to tackle this issue head on.”
The state has independently worked to develop and validate a test using CDC’s protocol. Cuomo also called on the federal government to authorize the Wadsworth Center in Albany and New York City Public Health Lab to test for the virus, allowing for expanded testing capacity and expedited test results.
The state is coordinating with multiple departments and agencies to prepare for the potential epidemic, including the health department, all hospitals and the state Port Authority, which operates New York’s airports. Airport officials are scrubbing travel data to screen and possibly quarantine thousands of individuals who come to the U.S. from China, including on indirect flights.
The number of flights from New York to China have significantly decreased over the last month, said Port Authority Chief Security Officer John Bilich. JFK had 42 flights to and from China on Jan. 17, compared to eight Wednesday.
Zucker represented New York on Tuesday at a briefing in Washington with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The state was one of several dozen in attendance.
“I’m very confident about what they’re [the CDC] working on,” Zucker said, adding the federal agency is handling the coronavirus epidemic well.
Zucker said the state is stocked with millions of face masks and other protective equipment, but only health care professionals or people with symptoms of the respiratory disease need to purchase or wear them.
“The public should not buy masks,” Zucker said. “We do not know the duration of this epidemic, but from this standpoint, we are comfortable we have adequate protective gear.”
The state is preparing for the health epidemic, but the public should not panic, Cuomo said.
“Yes, we’re preparing, but this situation is not a situation that should cause undue fear among people,” the governor said. “If you prepare correctly, you’ll have less of an issue when or if a situation develops into something that is more problematic. We’ve dealt with situations like this in the past and we’ll deal with it again.”
Everyday preventive actions can help stop the spread of the viruses. The state health department recommends:
n Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
n Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands.
n Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
n Stay home when you are sick.
n Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash.
n Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.
n Individuals who are experiencing symptoms and may have traveled to areas of concern or have been in contact with somebody who has traveled to these areas should call ahead to their healthcare provider before presenting for treatment.
For questions or more information about the coronavirus, call the state Health Department hotline at 1-888-364-3065 or visit the department’s website that will be regularly updated about the disease: health.ny.gov/diseases/communicable/coronavirus.