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ALBANY — A test that can give quick results remains an allusive weapon in the fight against COVID-19 here in the Capital District and across the country.
It would be game changer, said Dr. Dennis McKenna, president and CEO at Albany Medical Center Hospital during an interview on Talk 1300 radio.
“If you can ID someone quickly, not in hours or days but in a matter of minutes, and determine who does have COVID-19, it would allow you to immediately isolate those individuals,” he said. “But, the opposite is also true. If I can test someone and say this person doesn’t have it theoretically there might be an opportunity for this person can get out to work.”
There are scores of labs working, with Food and Drug Administration blessing, on such a test in laboratories across the country.
Dr. Elizabeth Whalen, head of the Albany County Health Department, said absent the lack of community testing, the only tool to fight the spread of the virus is to practice social distancing and the other precautions, like staying at home and washing your hands.
“We have very limited ability [to test] and that is the situation across the country so we focus on what we have left which is to stay home,” she said during a daily press briefing. “That message gets more important by the day. It is the same message with more urgency.”
Right now Albany Med is doing its own testing with results in four to eight hours. It was doing community testing in the parking lot outside the Emergency Room entrance but that was stopped about two weeks ago. Likewise, the Albany County Health Department has not done community testing in about the same length of time. If it were, Whalen said, the number of positive cases would be much higher. Right now, only health care workers and patients admitted with COVID-19 symptoms — fever, cough and shortness of breath — are being tested.
As of Tuesday, there were 210 confirmed cases in Albany County, up from 199 a day before. There are 517 under mandatory quarantine, down from 559 on Monday, and 234 under precautionary quarantine, an increase of one since Monday.
McKenna said there are 24 patients with COVID-10 in Albany Med with 11 in ICU. In the 12-hoptial region, there are 83 as of Monday, he said.
“What we’re seeing here is what is being published about other parts of the country,” he said. “The majority we seeing who have complications with COVID-19 are the vulnerable population, those in their 60s, 70s and 80s, or those with underlying lung issues and other types of health conditions.”
Of those who did require hospitalization, 16 were sent home. When the hospital was doing community testing, he said, the overwhelming number of positive cases were sent home to rest, drink fluids and after a couple days of “feeling miserable” were on their way to recovery.
On Monday, McKenna and Dr. Ferdinand Vanditti, the head of hospital general director, said 45 health care workers in Albany Med have tested positive for the virus. They will have to be out of work for seven days. To return, they will have to be fever free for 72 hours without medication and they will have to wear a mask for 72 hours. Two thirds of the 45 were infected outside of the hospital.
“Considering we employ 10,000 people and only 45 are infected, that is a small number,” Vanditti said on the hospital’s YouTube channel.
Meanwhile, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said there were 18,500 people tested statewide on Monday, upping the total number tested to more than 200,000, more than any other state in the nation and per capita more than any other country in the world.
The total number of positive cases is more than 75,000, with 10,000 people in hospitals and 2,700 ICU patients. There are more than 4,900 discharged, up about 700 people from Monday.
There are 1,550 deaths statewide, up from 1,218 on Monday.
The overwhelming number of positive cases, hospitalizations and deaths are in New York City and its suburbs.
Cuomo said he is working on breaking down the walls that currently fragment the state’s health care systems including regionalization and private versus public hospitals. That would, he said during his daily briefing, allow the allocation of equipment and personnel where it is needed most.
So far there have not been any patients from the hard hit areas of downstate moved upstate, but Cuomo said it will likely happen as the apex of the virus is still between seven and 21 days out. He has directed hospitals across the state to increase capacity by 50 percent with the goal of increasing it 100 percent.
At Albany Med, McKenna said, there are 476 patients, which is 200 less patients than on a typical Tuesday. Elective surgeries are postponed, and other non-critical cases have been discharged or care has been delayed.
He said the hospital would accept COVID-19 patients just like any other transfer patient.
“Albany Med is a tertiary care hospital. We provide care other hospitals can’t provide,” he said, adding one in four patients at any given time are transfers. “It would not surprise me if there are requests for people to come in who have COVID-19, and we would say ‘yes’ just like we have said ‘yes’ to any other transfer over the past 10 years.”
The caveat, he said, is the COVID-19 patients would be under the same restrictions as those from the Capital District, which includes no visitors.