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NY relaxes testing requirement for nursing home staffers

National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Rocky Mountain Laboratories

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — New York is now allowing nursing homes in some parts of the state to test staff for COVID-19 only once a week, down from a sweeping twice-a-week mandate that began last month.

State Health Commissioner Howard Zucker said Wednesday that infection rates had fallen to the point where less rigorous testing was acceptable.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo ordered the testing regime May 10 in an attempt to belatedly stop the uncontrolled spread of the coronavirus through nursing homes. To date, at least 6,100 nursing home residents have died in the state.

Homes will be able to reduce testing to once a week in parts of the state that have begun the second phase of the state’s reopening plan. Twice-a-week testing would continue in New York City, which entered the first phase of reopening Monday.

Leaders of nursing homes and their industry groups argued for weeks that mandatory testing was costly and logistically difficult, requiring roughly 185,000 workers to get tested twice a week.

Zucker said said the program has been a success. More than 6,500 tests on nursing home staff have come up positive for COVID-19, he said.

“While some called this mandate unnecessary, these test results have identified thousands of positive cases of those who may have otherwise spread the virus to vulnerable residents,” Zucker said.

Over the last three weeks, the weekly positive testing rate has declined from 3%, to less than 1% for the most recent week for which test results are available.

The COVID-19 virus causes mild or moderate symptoms for most people, but has been dangerous for elderly people in frail health.