New York City will purchase 100,000 coronavirus test kits per week from a mix of local contractors and a Carmel, Indiana-based company as the city works to identify more Covid-19 cases, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Tuesday.
"For the first time, we're going to have a truly reliable major supply of testing," de Blasio said at a news conference. "The No. 1 one issue from day one has been testing."
Aria Diagnostics donated 50,000 test kits to NYC, de Blasio said, adding that the city will purchase 50,000 kits per week from the firm starting next week. De Blasio said the city is also contracting through local companies to produce another 50,000 kits per week starting in May. He described both commitments as "breakthroughs."
"We're going to need a huge number of test kits," he said at a news briefing. In a few weeks, he said 50,000 test kits will be produced in New York City every week "with components put together right here with companies, universities, New York City workers right here, building a brand-new supply chain to feed this industry that will now develop in New York City."
Covid-19 has infected more than 106,763 people in New York City, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. New York state has confirmed almost 200,000 Covid-19 cases so far — more than any country outside the United States, but the outbreak has shown signs of peaking in recent days.
Broad testing will help health officials identify pockets of transmission as the city seeks to gradually lift social distancing restrictions that were implemented to curb the spread, Dr. Oxiris Barbot, commissioner of the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, said. She added that the ability to quickly identify exposed individuals will help the city to commit to contact tracing, whereby health officials track those who were in touch with an infected individual.
De Blasio said the purchases will be made through the New York City Economic Development Corp.
"We'll have 100,000 full test kits per week that New York City can rely on, 400,000 per month. And that's just the beginning," de Blasio said.
Zak Khan, co-founder of Aria Diagnostics, said his company began to process Covid-19 tests about three weeks ago, but last week they "started getting nervous" about the supply of the test kits themselves. Khan said the company had been purchasing kits from Italy-based Copan Diagnostics to test suspected patients, but the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency outbid Aria for most of Copan's remaining supply of kits, according to Khan.
"They killed the supply," Khan said, adding that "it forced our hand." That's when the company began to manufacture its own kits using Food and Drug Administration guidelines and spare raw supplies it could find.
As the company grew more comfortable producing test kits at scale, Khan said he reached out to the NYC Economic Development Corp. to respond to local officials' calls for more testing supplies.
"We told them 'you guys should do this yourselves,'" he said. "We're in the middle of nowhere in Indiana. There's no reason New York City can't be self-sufficient."
De Blasio criticized the federal government for failing to adequately ramp up testing. Even as testing across the U.S. expanded from 300,000 total tests about three weeks ago to 3 million, according to White House officials, de Blasio said supplies remain so scarce that New York City has to prioritize who will be tested for the disease.
"If the federal government can't figure it out, then get out of the way and let us at the local level get this done," de Blasio said. "But support us. Get us the components. Get us the help so that we can do this rapidly and protect ourselves."
A number of New York City firms are also working to produce personal protective equipment, including surgical gowns and face shields, de Blasio said. He said eight firms in the Brooklyn Navy Yard, Brooklyn Army Terminal and Manhattan are manufacturing face shields now and aim to produce 620,000 per week eventually. He added that five firms in Brooklyn, Manhattan and Queens are now making gowns.
"New York City will be self-sufficient," he said.
De Blasio added that new hospitalizations in the city fell again on Sunday, the most recent data available. He said 326 people were hospitalized for suspected Covid-19 on Sunday, down from 383 on Saturday. However, he added that the number of people in the intensive care unit across New York City Health + Hospital locations rose on Sunday to 850, from 835 on Saturday.
"There'll be good days and bad days," de Blasio said, emphasizing that residents should continue to abide by the social distancing restrictions. "Every day we have to win that battle to prove that we can reduce the spread of this virus."