The New York State Health Department announced an emergency rule Monday that requires increased testing to distinguish whether individuals are infected or die from the coronavirus or influenza as the flu season approaches.
The new edict, which goes into effect immediately, requires coroners and funeral directors as well as hospital and nursing homes to test for both illnesses.
Nursing homes are currently required to 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,” Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker said in a statement released Monday night.
“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.”
The testing will be required of any hospital patient or nursing home resident who has been exposed or has symptoms consistent with either disease.
In addition, coroners, medical examiners and funeral directors are required to perform COVID-19 and influenza tests when someone dies “unattended” by medical or nursing personnel — such as at home.
New York State has been hard hit by the pandemic — suffering more deaths from COVID-19 than any other state, including more populous California, Texas and Florida.
But the number of deaths tallied has been a source of debate. The John Hopkins U. Coronavirus Resource Center says that 32,951 people in New York have died from COVID-19, while the state Health Department reports 25,328 deaths.
There’s been 6,639 confirmed or presumed deaths of nursing home and adult care facility residents linked to the coronavirus. That figure does not include potentially thousands of nursing home residents who were transported to a hospital for treatment and then died.
The Justice Department is looking at whether the policies of New York and three other states contributed to the death toll of nursing home residents — an inquiry Gov. Andrew Cuomo has dismissed as a partisan witch hunt by the Trump administration.
The killer bug has been tamed in New York in recent months after a brutal spring — following lockdowns, social distancing rules and mask wearing.
A total of 434,756 New Yorkers have tested positive for COVID-19. 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.
Someone will pay for the testing, whether it’s the public, insurance carriers, entities or consumers.
The cost for non-rapid testing ranges from $100-150 per sample, though some newer rapid COVID-19 tests are advertised for as low as $5 per test.
“The Department understands that only some hospitals and nursing homes may have this capability at this time,” officials said
Rapid influenza tests are advertised at $10-15 per sample.