ALBANY — The nation’s decrease in positive coronavirus cases is a scam after a recent change in federal testing guidelines, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said, as the state weighs a mandatory flu vaccine for children to return to school.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced Aug. 24 it would no longer recommend COVID-19 testing for individuals who had been exposed to the disease, but were not experiencing symptoms.
The changes were President Donald Trump’s political ploy, and U.S. states are participating, Cuomo said Thursday.
“There is a scam going on in this country people should be alerted to,” the governor said during a conference call with reporters.
Trump has repeatedly attributed increases in the nation’s COVID-19 infections and transmission rates to the high number of coronavirus diagnostic tests conducted in U.S. states.
“If you do fewer tests, you will find fewer cases,” Cuomo said. “It’s a deception. It’s a scam. It’s a fraud, because it suggests to the American people that there are, in fact, fewer positive cases. That’s not reality. You’re just finding fewer cases because you’re testing less.”
State officials have said CDC scientists claim the about-face in coronavirus testing guidelines were politically motivated.
States are reporting fewer new cases of the novel coronavirus, but also fewer COVID-19 tests in a 24-hour period, per federal guidelines.
Cuomo compared COVID-19 statistics in Florida, which showed an average of 65,000 diagnostic tests taken in the southern state in July.
“They’re now doing about 20,000 tests per day — yesterday, they did 14,000 tests,” the governor said. “That’s one-third the number of tests that would probably find one-third of the number of positive cases.
“Some states are following the president’s proposition: Test less and the number of cases will go down. That’s what Florida is doing.”
The president has continuously deceived Americans about the coronvirus pandemic, Cuomo said, on the heels of Wednesday headlines Trump knew the coronavirus was “deadly” in February, but felt it was best to keep the people in the dark. Journalist and author Bob Woodward, who first rose to fame in the 1970s when he and fellow Washington Post reporter Carl Bernstein uncovered widespread malfeasance in President Richard Nixon’s administration, details the reports with Trump in his forthcoming book “Rage.”
State health officials are considering making this year’s influenza vaccine mandatory for public school students in kindergarten through 12th grade who attend in-person classes.
Last month, Massachusetts health officials announced all children aged 6 months or older attending Massachusetts child care, pre-school, K-12, colleges and universities would be required to get flu shots as part of an effort to curb respiratory illnesses during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We are looking at that as a possibility,” state Department of Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker said Thursday. “I think public health information is the first necessary thing to do. But we’re looking at all the possibilities to see what we can do.”
Cuomo encouraged New Yorkers to get their flu shots early this fall. Officials expect the annual flu outbreak will complicate the pandemic, because the coronavirus and influenza have similar symptoms, including fever, cough and congestion.
Flu activity peaks between December and February, but can last as late as May, according to the CDC.
“The flu season will also complicate the testing,” Cuomo said. “Many of the testing labs that do the COVID tests also do flu tests, so it’s important people get their shots.”
The governor declared an executive order Thursday directing the Metropolitan Transportation Authority to develop a plan to enforce mask-wearing compliance across New York City and downstate metro area’s public transportation system’s subways, buses and railroads.
Riders who do not have a mask are provided one at ticket booths. Passengers who refuse to wear a mask on public transit will be subject to a $50 fine. The new measure goes into effect Monday.
“We know the vast majority of New Yorkers are already doing the right thing and wearing a mask while riding with us,” said Sarah Feinberg, interim president of New York City Transit. “The fine is a last-resort measure for those who refuse to comply. It’s critical that every customer does their part to keep our system safe.”
Riders will not be fined for improperly wearing masks. Proper mask-wearing is not enforceable, Gov. Cuomo said.
“A mask it’s not a chin guard — I don’t know why some people wear it on their chin,” he said. “Know what that actually accomplishes. It has to cover your mouth and your nose. I’m blessed I have a very large nose, so my nose keeps the mask up.”
The governor encouraged New Yorkers for the second day in a row Thursday to take city public transportation, including the subway and bus systems, the Long Island Rail Road and Metro-North, as they return to work, students return to school and vehicle traffic clogs city roadways.
The MTA has also deployed vending machines at New York City Transit subway, Long Island Rail Road and Metro-North stations, allowing customers to buy COVID-19 personal protective equipment. The machines, part of a pilot program, offer reusable face masks, gloves, hand sanitizer and sanitizing wipes.
The MTA has installed free surgical mask dispensers inside 360 buses across 15 routes to help further protect customers while on board, according to a statement from the governor’s office.
The state’s rate of new COVID-19 infections remained under 1% positive for the 34th straight day at 0.98% — or 757 additional coronavirus cases after 76,813 tests Wednesday. The state has conducted more than 9 million COVID-19 diagnostic tests.
Hospitalizations increased to 482 patients Thursday.
Seven New Yorkers died from the virus Wednesday, up from three Tuesday.
Tribune News Service contributed to this report.