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NY opens antibody testing to health care workers and others on front lines

NEW YORK — New York is starting to test health care workers for coronavirus antibodies and will do the same next week with transit and law enforcement workers as the state eases away from the worst days of the pandemic, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Saturday.

Doctors, nurses and other employees at four New York City hospitals that have handled high volumes of coronavirus patients will be the first tested under the new program, Cuomo said.

Antibody testing is a way of determining if a person has been infected by the coronavirus even if they hadn’t shown symptoms.

Making such testing widely available is seen as a key to reopening society, but the World Health Organization on Saturday warned there is currently no evidence that people who have antibodies are protected from coronavirus.

Cuomo’s testing announcement came as new data showed hospitalizations for coronavirus in the state falling to their lowest level in three weeks.

A little more than 13,000 people were hospitalized for the disease on Friday, about the same level the state was at on April 1, before a surge of cases.

The number of people dying in the state from the disease is trending lower, though Friday’s total of 437 deaths was a slight uptick over Thursday’s tally.

“All of the numbers are basically saying the same, that we are in fact on the downside of the mountain,” Cuomo said.

After weeks of reserving conventional coronavirus testing to people with symptoms to conserve supplies, the state is expanding eligibility to include first responders, healthcare workers and a long list of essential employees, such as bus drivers, dry cleaners, undertakers and grocery store workers.

“Why? Because these people have been carrying the load and they have been subjected to the public all during this crisis, and because they’re public facing,” Cuomo said. “These are the people you interact with.”

Cuomo said he is signing an executive order to allow the state’s independent pharmacies to serve as collection points for testing samples.

The state is currently conducting about 20,000 diagnostic and antibody tests per day. With the help of the federal government, he said, the goal is to double that.

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