ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Tuesday he wants to start opening restaurants, theatres and offices by launching rapid testing sites in New York City and eventually other city centers throughout the state.
The Democratic governor said he wants to launch hundreds of new rapid testing sites statewide by partnering with the real estate community and working with local governments to reduce bureaucratic hurdles.
An individual could theoretically get tested and in 15 minutes go to a dinner or movie with rapid testing, under the governor’s plan, which he said could also help get more people onto mass transit.
Public health experts have said that frequent, low-cost rapid testing can help prevent COVID-19 spread by ruling out contagious individuals. But they’ve also warned that one single negative test doesn’t indicate a clean bill of health.
New York has a higher per-capita infection rate than 37 other states and reported 210,000 new COVID-19 positive tests over the last 14 days — up 40% from the previous two weeks. Hospitals and nursing homes have reported about 1,200 COVID-19 deaths over the past seven days, up from nearly 500 for the first week in December.
Still, Cuomo has stressed in recent weeks the need to re-open a economy that shuttered last spring, when New York hospitals and nursing homes reported as many as 800 people dying each day. The governor is counting on federal aid to help replace lost tax revenue.
Cuomo said he’ll work with property owners to open up “COVID-safe” office buildings, and said major commercial operators in New York have already agreed to provide regular testing to all tenants in their buildings. He also said he’ll propose legislation to require internet service providers to offer $15-a-month high-speed internet plans for low-income households, who could receive help from a hardship fund.
And he urged the state to bring back its $120 billion arts and cultural sector that lost tens of thousands of jobs.
“We must bring culture and arts back to life,” Cuomo said.
The state will launch “pop-up” artistic performances and events around New York beginning in February, Cuomo said. Artists will include Amy Schumer, Chris Rock, Wynton Marsalis, the National Black Theatre and Ballet Hispanico.
The Cuomo administration’s effort to mass test around 7,000 fans at a recent Buffalo Bills playoff game could potentially serve as a model for bringing back restaurants and theatres, he said.
Cuomo said about 2% of fans at the game tested positive using rapid tests, and called the model an apparent “success.”
“On game day DOH had more than three dozen staff on site working with Bills management to facilitate temperature checks, and to ensure mask and social distancing compliance – which were both achieved at very high levels,” Department of Health spokesman Jeffrey Hammond told The Associated Press.
Still, it will take weeks to see if any fans contract COVID-19.
The state plans to cross check the list of attendees with the list of people who test positive in New York in the next two weeks. State health officials said they aren’t able to track test results of about 281 out-of-state fans who attended the game.
By MARINA VILLENEUVE