ALBANY, N.Y. (WIVB) – After weeks of foreshadowing the announcement, Governor Andrew Cuomo said on Tuesday during his State of the State address that he wanted to use COVID-19 testing as a tool to re-open the economy.
“Why can’t we use rapid testing to open restaurants in orange zones, theaters, and offices?” Cuomo asked. “There are so many options.”
The state piloted its strategy at Bills Stadium last week, when about 7,000 people were tested, using a PCR test, prior to the Bills Wild Card game against the Colts. It resulted in a positivity rate of 1.9%, which is much lower than the regional and statewide rate. Cuomo says early indications are that the event was successful. The pilot is being utilized again this week ahead of the Bills game against the Ravens.
“I think everybody who is in the business was surprised that the (positivity rate) was that low,” said Dr. Jon Cohen, executive director of BioReference Laboratories, which conducted the testing. “There’s a lot of conjecture around why that should be. But the fact is I don’t thing anybody has the answer.”
The governor said the state will work to open hundreds of pop-up rapid testing sites statewide, and that he hopes to re-open COVID-safe office buildings and bring the arts back. In light of Cuomo’s plan, Cohen says BioReference is ready to do a “large number of large scale screening programs”.
“However, it’s not just about the number of screenings,” he added. “What you need to do is figure out a customized solution.”
“I can’t set up 30 drive-thrus in the middle of Manhattan so someone could go to the theater,” Cohen continued. “So that means the solution there is going to be different than fan testing for a large arena.”
In Buffalo, officials at Shea’s Performing Arts Center say the governor’s plan would provide an important boost.
“Shea’s is excited to partner in every way possible. The arts are a significant economic generator not only for our community, but the entire state. I appreciate that the Governor continues his support of the arts and will use the arts as a key component of his plans for reimagining New York State as we emerge from COVID in the coming months,” said Shea’s president Michael Murphy.
At Kleinhans, Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra officials say they’re closely monitoring and learning from what is being done at Bills Stadium and other concert halls around the country.
Chris Horvatits is an award-winning anchor and reporter who has been part of the News 4 team since 2017. See more of his work here.