ALBANY – The state Department of Health has started a large-scale antibody testing program to determine what percentage of the population has contracted the coronavirus as officials eye a plan to reopen the state's economy.
A total of 3,000 people will be randomly selected for testing this week to determine if their bodies have built up an immunity to the deadly virus that has killed more than 13,000 New Yorkers since last month, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Sunday.
The results — which are expected by week's end — will give the state its "first true snapshot" of how many have been infected as officials begin drafting a plan to restart the economy, Cuomo said.
"Any plan to start to reopen the economy has to be based on data and testing, and we have to make sure our antibody and diagnostic testing is up to the scale we need so we can safely get people back to work," Cuomo said.
Officials noted that the 3,000-person sample is the equivalent to Germany's antibody testing program, a country with a population of 83 million compared to New York's 19.5 million.
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A closer look
For weeks, state officials have been working with the Food and Drug Administration to gain approval for its antibody testing program, considered by many health officials to be key in finding a vaccine for the virus.
The test will also determine if an individual has built up an immunity to the virus, which will give officials much needed insight into how the virus has spread as they begin drafting a plan to reopen the state's economy.
There have been more than 240,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the state since March 1, but officials believe the rate of infection could be far higher because many who have been infected may have shown no symptoms.
How are participants selected?
Participants will be selected from across the state based on a statistical model of the state's outbreak, Cuomo said.
"It is a statistical model that statisticians draw up to come up with representative sample," he said.
So, since New York City accounts for 60% of the confirmed cases, residents from the city will account for 60% of those receiving the test.
The state has been reaching out to local grocery stores, including Wegmans, to set up testing sites, including the East Avenue location in Rochester and the Johnson City store near Binghamton.
The Department of Health also set up testing facilities — which consists of five nurses at each location — at Wegmans locations in Syracuse, Buffalo, and Amherst, Deana Percassi, a spokeswoman for the grocer, said.
Nursing staff is tasked with engaging and gaining consent from customers and around 50 tests will be conducted Monday, Percassi said.
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Restarting the economy
Cuomo has repeatedly called on the federal government to ramp up its testing efforts by providing states with regenerants — the chemicals needed to carry out testing.
Large-scale testing is key in tracking the virus' spread and will give state officials a much needed map to reopening the state's economy.
Cuomo last week extended his NY PAUSE order through at least May 15, but has reopened golf courses and marinas in recent days.
New York has taken a regional approach to reopen its economy alongside neighboring states, including New Jersey, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts and Rhode Island.
Antibody testing will key in shaping the approach moving forward, Cuomo said.
"This will be the first true snapshot of exactly how many people were infected by COVID-19 and where we are as a population and will help us to reopen and rebuild without jeopardizing what we've already accomplished."
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Chad Arnold is a staff writer for the USA TODAY Network New York. He can be reached at CGARNOLD@Gannett.com and followed on Twitter: @ChadGArnold
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