Anticipating flu season, New York health department issuing letters to counties about testing

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FILE – In this June 12, 2020, file photo, a health worker draws blood for COVID-19 antibody testing in Dearborn, Mich. A genetic analysis of COVID-19 patients published Wednesday, June 17, 2020, in the New England Journal of Medicine suggests a person’s blood type may have some influence on whether they develop severe disease. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya, File)

NEW YORK (WWTI) – With flu season a concern, the New York State Department of Health will be sending a letter to county health departments to ensure plans in place for simultaneous flu and COVID-19 tests.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo directed the department to ensure that counties have plans in place to perform both tests this fall.

In a press call on Wednesday, Cuomo said: “This is going to be difficult and challenging. It will require a reduction in the number of COVID tests or in the turnaround time on COVID tests, and we already had issues on the turnaround time on COVID tests. So we want to get ahead of this and that letter from the Department of Health is going to do that, and that letter goes out today. But I’m telling you, there’s going to be no easy answer to that riddle.”

The letter is included below:

Dear Commissioner/Public Health Director:

The New York State Department of Health greatly appreciates the work of our Local Health Department (LHD) partners to date in our efforts to contain and prevent community transmission of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19). The Department is also grateful for and relies upon your commitment to protecting the public health going forward.  

As we enter now into an influenza season during an unprecedented pandemic, Governor Cuomo has directed my Department to ensure local communities have adequate testing capacity for both seasonal influenza and COVID-19 so that we can make sure limited testing, lab, and treatment resources are being utilized most effectively. 

I am requesting detail about what plans for this fall your LHD has developed to provide residents of your county with sufficient availability of, access to, and information about both flu and COVID-19 tests. Your response will help inform the state’s ongoing efforts to build a sufficient testing system to protect all New Yorkers. 

If there are any issues or barriers your LHD can foresee that will make it more difficult to maintain sufficient testing capacity within your county, please note them specifically, and my team will work with yours to get them resolved.

Finally, in addition to adequate testing capacity, developing and implementing a robust influenza vaccination plan will help ensure we can continue to respond efficiently to the ongoing challenges of this pandemic, so please also provide information on specific steps your LHD is taking to increase vaccination rates in your communities. 

Please share this information on plans for flu and COVID-19 testing and plans for flu vaccination, including any anticipated barriers, by 3 pm on Wednesday, August 26th to prevention@health.ny.gov

Thank you for all that you do and I look forward to our continued partnership in combating this pandemic.

Sincerely, Howard A. Zucker, M.D. J.D.

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