NEW YORK (WCBS 880) -- New York State is going to start partnering with private labs to increase its testing capacity as the total number of coronavirus cases across the state hit 216 on Wednesday.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo said during an afternoon news conference that the state was working with 28 private labs. He said that increasing the amount of tests is key to tracking the spread of the virus and ultimately curtailing it.
Most of these labs will do manual testing of samples, but Cuomo said that they are hoping to move more towards semi-automated testing. The protocols for receiving a test will remain the same, giving priority to those with existing symptoms.
Some of these labs are still waiting for FDA approval before they can begin testing. It is unclear how much testing capacity will increase.
The testing for coronavirus involves taking swabs from the nose and throat, and a sputum collection, which involves the patient coughing into a container. Three swabs are collected to ensure the accuracy of the results. Right now, it takes two to four days for the results to come back.
Cuomo also said that all state employees who are quarantined will be paid, and encouraged private companies to do the same.
The majority of the state's cases are located in New Rochelle where large gathering places such as schools and houses of worship in a designated containment zone will be closed for two weeks starting Thursday in an attempt to mitigate the spread of coronavirus.
"The largest cluster of confirmed coronavirus cases in the country is located in New Rochelle, and as the numbers continue to go up we need a special public health strategy to contain it," Cuomo said. "We are moving from containment to mitigation, and because much of the transmission of this disease tends to happen on a geographic basis, we are attacking this hotspot at the source."
But people can move around freely in the containment zone and businesses such as grocery stores will remain open.
Acme is open for business as is Mike Mariano's Bagel Shop."We're here, business as usual, and you're welcome to come in whenever you want and we'll try to keep the door open as long as they let us," Mariano said. "We got to go on with our lives and we just got to be careful and it's a another day. What can we do?"
The containment zone extends in a one-mile radius from the Young Israel synagogue, which has been deemed the epicenter of the outbreak. The zone includes New Rochelle High School, Leonard Middle School, William B. Ward Elementary School, Tuckahoe schools, and a handful of private schools, including Ursuline School, Hudson Country Montessori School and Thornton Donovan School.For the next two weeks, roughly 5,500 New Rochelle students will learn from home via computer.
The National Guard will be deployed to the containment area to help deliver meals to families and assist in cleaning public spaces. A satellite testing facility is also being set up in the area.
Cuomo told the "Today Show" that the action sounds more dramatic than it is.
"Our action in New Rochelle is just no large gatherings. People can come, people can go, there's no limitation on movement," Cuomo said. "The large gatherings are where it spreads."
In nearby White Plains, a lawyer who had worked at the Westchester County Courthouse tested positive. Six courtrooms are now closed for cleaning, and employees who had contact will be quarantined as a precautionary measure.
During an appearance on MSNBC, the governor said he will ask business owners to stagger work hours or let people work from home voluntarily to reduce potential exposure to the virus.
Staggering work hours was a strategy used during the 1918 influenza epidemic in an effort to reduce rush-hour crowding.
Cuomo says he is worried about the health care system, and that the state is planning backup hospitals or quarantine centers in case the system is overwhelmed with new cases.