New York Health Dep’t to Expand Testing to Determine COVID-19, Flu

Emergency medical workers arrive at Cobble Hill Health Center in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. (AP Photo/John Minchillo, File)

As the flu season approaches, the New York State Health Department announced on Monday an emergency rule requiring increased testing to distinguish whether individuals are infected or have died from either coronavirus or influenza.

The ruling, which goes into effect immediately, requires coroners, funeral directors, hospitals and nursing homes to test for both illnesses. At present, nursing homes must test all staffers for COVID-19 weekly – a rule operators want relaxed.

“While the human toll this virus has taken on New Yorkers is immeasurable, these regulations will ensure we have the most accurate death data possible as we continue to manage COVID-19 while preparing for flu season,” said Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker, in a statement released on Monday. “Good quality health data helps inform good quality public health decisions, and this information will strengthen our contact tracing efforts and slow the spread of this virus.”

In addition to testing of hospital patients or nursing home residents exposed to either disease or showing their symptoms, coroners, medical examiners and funeral directors will be required to perform COVID-19 and influenza tests for those who die unattended by medical or nursing personnel, such as in their home.

Meanwhile, the Justice Department is looking into policies of New York and three other states to see if they perhaps contributed to the death toll among nursing home residents. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has dismissed this inquiry as a partisan witch hunt by the Trump administration. The coronavirus infection rate has been under one percent for 24 consecutive days.
State health officials defended the new testing rule, saying not imposing the edict would “allow deaths to be reported as ‘presumed’ deaths of COVID-19.”

“A lack of the regulation would translate to a lack of accuracy in case statistics and delays or inadequate contact tracing, which would allow COVID-19 to spread indefinitely,” officials said in a statement accompanying the rule.

“Second, the regulations would encourage hospitals, nursing homes and hospices to test patients early for both COVID-19 and influenza, which will increase safety of patients and residents,” the statement said.