Dr. Oxiris Barbot attends Mayor bill de Blasio briefing on first registered community transfer covid-19 patient in New York at City Hall.

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Confirmed coronavirus cases in New York City are just “the tip of the iceberg,” New York City Health Commissioner Dr. Oxiris Barbot said Thursday, adding that “close to a million” residents have probably been exposed to Covid-19.

More than 147,000 people in New York City have so far tested positive for Covid-19, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

“That really I think is the tip of iceberg for a number of different reasons,” Barbot said at a news briefing. “New Yorkers have been heeding our advice that if they have mild symptoms, at this point in time, when you’ve got community-wide transmission, having a test result isn’t going to change what we’re going to tell you to do.”

New York City is still struggling to ramp up its capacity to test broadly for Covid-19, which means increasing laboratory capacity and acquiring necessary supplies such as test kits, swabs and reagents, which are chemicals needed to process the tests, Mayor Bill de Blasio said. Barbot added that the city still has to prioritize who gets tested.

“We want to reserve testing for those individuals who are really sick enough to be in the hospital,” she said. “With that being said, it wouldn’t surprise me if at this point in time, we have probably close to a million New Yorkers who have been exposed to Covid-19.”

Widespread testing and tracing of people who come into contact with infected individuals will be crucial to easing restrictions and reopening the city, de Blasio said. He previously announced that the city will begin manufacturing its own test kits, hoping to ramp up to 50,000 per week in addition to those kits the city acquires externally.

“We need the firepower of testing and tracing,” he said Thursday. “The more testing we get the more truth we will find. The more testing we get, the more we can fight back and contain this disease. All roads lead to testing.”

Lifting restrictions without enough testing and tracing infrastructure in place could lead to a “backfire” in which the virus resurges and health officials are unable to contain it before it spreads across the city again, de Blasio said. 

“Unless we are very careful and we have some good luck and some blessings thrown in, we have to be weary of a resurgence,” he said. “It will not only backfire. It will set us back by months and months.”

The statistics the city is using to track the outbreak, which include new hospital admissions, the number of patients in intensive care and the percent of those tested who are infected, indicate progress, de Blasio said. He said 227 people were admitted to hospitals for Covid-19 on Tuesday, down from 252 on Monday. The number of people in intensive care for Covid-19 at New York City’s Health + Hospital locations dropped from 821 on Monday to 796 on Tuesday, he added.

“We’re decelerating. That’s a very good thing, but we need to finish the job,” he said, adding that the number of people in intensive care has remained troublingly high. “We’re not there yet and we need to be sober about it and we still have a substantial distance to cover.”

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