Cuomo nasal swab
Dr. Elizabeth Dufort, director of the state Health Department's epidemiology division, gave Gov. Andrew Cuomo a COVID-19 diagnostic swab test during Sunday afternoon's pandemic briefing in the state Capitol.

ALBANY — The Capital District and Western New York can start reopening once officials finalize contact tracing, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Sunday.

The Capital Region reached six of the state’s seven reopening criteria Sunday afternoon regarding an area’s coronavirus infection and death rates, available hospital beds, testing and tracing capacity. The region can start reopening once it has 383 total contact tracers, but needs to hire 166 more, Cuomo said Sunday during a pandemic briefing at the state Capitol. Western New York needs to hire 352 tracers to reach its required 521.

“That is purely an administrative function,” he said. “That’s the only function that has to be performed for those regions to reopen. We will talk to regional heads today.”

The state requires a 14-day decline in net hospitalizations on a rolling three-day average to gradually restart the economy. The Capital Region’s hospitalization rate fluctuated last week and set the area back from reopening with five other regions Friday.

The North Country, Central New York, Finger Lakes, Mohawk Valley and Southern Tier regions resumed construction, manufacturing and curbside or in-store pickup retail industries under phase I of the state’s four-phase reopening plan.

Any person who expects to return to the workplace in phase I is eligible, and encouraged, to be tested for COVID-19.

New York’s diagnostic COVID-19 daily testing capacity is 40,000, Cuomo announced Sunday. The state doubled its capacity since the governor’s April 21 meeting with President Donald Trump, and is up from 6,000 daily tests March 13 at the start of the crisis.

More New Yorkers must get tested as the state starts to reopen.

“We’re double the national average,” Cuomo said. “Testing originally was used to control the virus. Now, testing will be used to monitor the virus.”

New York has more than 700 coronavirus testing sites statewide. Several drive-through testing sites can test up to 15,000 people each day, but only test 5,000. The state will partner with more than 60 CVS pharmacies across New York to conduct 50 or more tests each day.

Cuomo received a diagnostic COVID-19 swab test in his nasal cavity during Sunday’s briefing to demonstrate the test’s simplicity, he said, and encourage all New Yorkers to get one.

“This test is not an invasive test,” Cuomo said. “There is no pain to this test. There is nothing about this test that should intimidate people.

“If I’m not here tomorrow, it means I tested positive,” he joked.

COVID-19 tests are free for all New Yorkers. To see if you are eligible to be tested, or schedule a testing appointment, visit coronavirus.healthy.ny.gov.

New York’s COVID-19 fatalities reached 21,889 Sunday — up from 21,750 Saturday. Johns Hopkins University & Medicine’s online COVID-19 tracker, which includes probable virus deaths in its tally, listed the state’s virus death toll as 28,049 Sunday afternoon.

The state saw 139 virus-related deaths Saturday, including 106 in hospitals and 33 in nursing homes. The state’s death rate from the virus remains flat after totaling 157 fatalities Friday, 132 Thursday and 157 Wednesday.

The state tested 1,413,396 people by Saturday, revealing 350,121 total positive cases of COVID-19. New York’s hospitalization rates continued a downward trend to 6,220 patients Sunday, down 323 overnight, according to the governor’s office.

Just over 370 new virus patients entered hospitals statewide Saturday — a dip from last week’s daily average of 400 and an average of about 600 the prior week.

“We’re right about where we where when we started,” Cuomo said referring to March hospitalization rates. “We never want to go back.”

The state plans to release guidelines for summer camps before the end of June. Officials are taking their time to make a decision, they said Sunday, as state and national medical personnel continue to study more than 120 reported cases of virus complications in New York children causing inflammation of blood vessels and extremities. The complications mimick symptoms similar to severe illnesses such as Kawasaki disease and toxic-shock syndrome after initial reports the virus does not primarily affect children.

“We need to make sure we don’t do anything to harm any of these children,” state Health Department Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker said. “We have more than 120 cases here. If you look across the country, it’s past 200.”

Cuomo pleaded with New Yorkers to use available mental health resources after a recent study by San Diego and Florida state universities showed about 38% of Americans ages 18 to 44 reported serious mental distress from the COVID-19 pandemic.

New Yorkers needing to speak with a mental health professional or other services should call the state’s emotional support hotline at 1-844-863-9314. Additional resources are available at headspace.com/ny

“This is hell. How are you when you’re going through hell? Not good,” the governor said. “This is nothing to be ashamed of ever in life. Not ever, but especially not now.”

For more information and to take a mental health evaluation, visit howareyoureally.org

Sunday marked day 78 since the state’s first confirmed COVID-19 case.

To see where each region stands on reopening and the complete county breakdown of COVID-19 cases and deaths statewide, view the COVID-19 map and tracker at hudsonvalley360.com/site/covid19.html

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