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NYC hospitals could run out of COVID-19 test swabs, city health department memo says

New York City is in danger of running out of swabs for COVID-19 tests and is urging health-care providers to continue testing only patients who are gravely ill, the city health department said in a memo.

Warning came amid repeated pleas from NYC, state officials for U.S. government to provide widespread testing

A nurse holds swabs and a test tube to test people for COVID-19 on March 16. New York city is in danger of running out of swabs for COVID-19 tests and is urging medical providers to continue testing only patients who are gravely ill, the city health department said in a memo. (Paul Sancya/The Associated Press)

New York City is in danger of running out of swabs for COVID-19 tests and is urging health-care providers to continue testing only patients who are gravely ill, the city health department said in a memo.

"As the swab supply continues to decline, there is a real possibility hospitals will completely run out," the April 11 alert to health-care providers said. "At this time, providers are reminded to only test hospitalized patients in order to preserve resources that are needed to diagnose and appropriately manage patients with more severe illness."

The warning came amid repeated pleas from New York City and state officials for the federal government to provide widespread testing in order to move to a containment phase in the coronavirus outbreak.

"If the president of the United States or anyone else wants a recovery — and we all want it, right? But if you're serious about it, you can't do it without widespread testing," Mayor Bill de Blasio said at a city hall briefing Monday.

The city's health commissioner, Dr. Oxiris Barbot, said the city "won't be able to get this over the finish line, if you will, if we don't have the supply that the mayor is calling for or the assistance of the federal government."

Tests, protective equipment being rationed

Through Sunday afternoon, 462,000 people in New York have been tested for the virus, according to state figures. Of those, nearly 189,000 had tested positive.

Because of rationing, just 44 per cent of tests conducted in the state have been done in New York City, even though the city represents 74 per cent of the state's fatalities from the virus.

Lack of testing capability, partly due to rationing of personal protective equipment for the people who would have to administer them, has also stopped officials from doing widespread testing of hospital and nursing-home staff who might be passing infections to each other and to patients.

WATCH | What it's like to get tested for COVID-19:

Watch what it's like to get tested for COVID-19

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12 months agoVideo
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A look at what patients could expect if they end up in an emergency room with COVID-19 symptoms. 1:59

'It is a killer'

Meanwhile, New York's death toll from coronavirus topped 10,000, with hospitals still seeing 2,000 new patients a day, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Monday.

The state tallied 671 new deaths on Sunday. It was the first time in a week the daily toll dipped below 700. Still, the governor noted people are still dying at a "horrific level of pain and grief and sorrow."

"This virus is very good at what it does. It is a killer," Cuomo said during a news conference.

The worst can be over, and it is over unless we do something reckless.- New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo

Cuomo said nearly 2,000 people were newly hospitalized with the virus Sunday, though once discharges and deaths are accounted for, the number of people hospitalized has flattened to just under 19,000.

The governor said the state's tenuous progress will likely continue as long as people continue to follow stay-at-home restrictions.

"The worst can be over, and it is over unless we do something reckless," Cuomo said. "And you can turn those numbers on two or three days of reckless behaviour."

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