New York counties get $30 million to prep for influenza | Health Matters

ALBANY — New York will give $30 million to its 62 counties to ramp up influenza testing and vaccine supplies to prepare for the upcoming season of coronavirus and flu diagnoses, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said Thursday.

Counties will also use the funding to maintain or increase COVID-19 contact tracing efforts.

“We want to keep that going strong, especially as we’re going in the school year,” Gov. Cuomo said during a telephone pandemic briefing Thursday. “What we are anticipating…we want to prepare for the coming flu season. People will need flu tests. They’ll also want COVID tests.”

State medical officials are discussing concerns about the approaching influenza season as the coronavirus pandemic persists and the virus continues to spread in 35 U.S. states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. Influenza and COVID-19 symptoms differ, but share similarities. Virus patients most commonly report a cough, fever and shortness of breath. A fever and cough are two tell-tale signs of the flu, which is usually combined with chills, muscle aches, congestion, runny nose, headaches and fatigue.

New York labs will have to process influenza and COVID-19 tests concurrently. About 70 percent of the state’s 800-plus coronavirus testing sites are conducted in in-state laboratories, and results are available to patients within a few days.

The remaining 30 percent of state coronavirus tests are sent to national testing labs, such as LabCorps or BioReference, that have reported significant delays as tens of thousands of tests are conducted daily in each state.

“But if they now have to do flu tests and COVID tests, that could affect the turnaround time on the COVID tests,” Gov. Cuomo said. “We want counties to be ready for their flu vaccine and flu testing, so we’re doing everything we can on this issue.”

The state will delay a planned $3 billion environmental bond for one year because of financial issues brought on by the COVID-19 crisis. The state expects a $30 billion budget shortfall over two years, or $14 billion this year and $16 billion the next, because of the pandemic.

“I don’t think it would be financially prudent to do it at this time,” Gov. Cuomo said of the decision to postpone the bond. “The financial situation now is unstable, as everyone knows.

“It was my proposal — I believe deeply in it, but we need to have financial stability before we do that.”

New York lawmakers approved the $3 billion bond act as part of the $177 billion state budget in April. The bond would have appeared on the statewide ballot for final approval from voters on Election Day, Nov. 3.

The bond act would have financed a variety of environmental upgrades aimed at protecting native species, improving green infrastructure and preventing flooding, among other projects.

The legislation, approved about one month after the coronavirus pandemic struck New York, included language allowing Gov. Cuomo’s budget office to pull it from the ballot if the state’s finances took a turn or if it would interfere with the state’s ability obtain financing for other projects.

“We’re waiting to see what the federal government provides in aid… We’re waiting to see what happens with the economy and when that economic engine wheel starts turning,” Gov. Cuomo said. “No one can tell you that today.”

New York City’s economic outlook remains murky as the downstate metropolis anticipates a $9 billion budget hole this year due to COVID-19. Gov. Cuomo criticized a proposed federal tax bill that would allow Americans to pay income taxes based on the location of their workplace, or where they were staying through the pandemic — not their primary residence.

If passed, the law would have a significant negative effect on New York City, as it gives New Yorkers a financial incentive not to return, Gov. Cuomo said.

“If the federal government passes that law and they can now pay their taxes for this period from their residence in Wyoming, their residence in Suffolk or from their residence in Columbia County rather than New York City, that is going to be a major impact to New York City,” he said. “If you have been living someplace else, you can pay them from your home jurisdiction.”

Taxpayers would not have to pay New York City’s income tax surcharge under the law, which amounts to tens of thousands of dollars for some wealthy New Yorkers, further deepening the city’s budget crisis.

“That is really disturbing,” Gov. Cuomo said, adding he continues daily discussions with the state’s reopening commissions. “Then, once people realize the surcharge they’ve been paying to live in New York City — that’s in the basket.

“This is going to take an affirmative effort. I don’t believe it’s going to be enough to just sit back and wait. I think if we just sit back and wait, we won’t like the outcome.”

The governor discussed the confluence of negative events that have surrounded the city since the pandemic began in March, including increased violent crime, homelessness, widespread graffiti and continuing tension between the community and police.

The pandemic, crime rate and racial unrest prompted a large number of wealthier New York City residents to leave the city for their second homes in other parts of the state or country and have not returned, dealing another blow to deteriorating tax revenue.

“You put all of this together, it is an ugly mess,” Gov. Cuomo said.

State officials continue to monitor New York’s COVID-19 numbers as the virus soars in 35 states across the U.S. and Puerto Rico. The state reported a decline of 33 virus patients in New York hospitals Thursday, bringing the total to 586 hospitalized — the lowest number since March 18.

Thirteen New Yorkers died from the virus Wednesday, up from five Tuesday. The state’s virus-related fatalities have fluctuated below 15 per day for several weeks.

The state reported 777 new COVID-19 cases, or about 1.06 percent positive, of the 73,546 tests conducted Wednesday.

The Tribune News Service contributed to this report.

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