New York City will begin manufacturing its own coronavirus test kits, as well as some personal protection equipment, its mayor announced Tuesday.
"For the first time, we are going to have a truly reliable, major supply of testing," Mayor Bill de Blasio told reporters at City Hall. "A lot of folks would have said this was impossible, they are making it possible – and that is what New Yorkers do."
New York has been the hardest hit U.S. state by the coronavirus, with nearly 200,000 confirmed infections. More than half are in New York City. The statewide death toll passed 10,000 this week, and thousands of people remain hospitalized with the respiratory virus.
De Blasio said starting in early May, the city would begin producing 50,000 test kits per week and he hopes to build that up rapidly, as the city of 8.6 million will need a huge volume.
The city struggled in the early weeks of the pandemic to acquire enough test kits from the federal government and from private companies. While the limited scale of production of test kits will not make the city self-sufficient, it will be a huge step forward.
"Hopefully, the example New York City is setting will be recognized in Washington – that if we can do it here, a place that doesn't produce tests has figured out a way to do it – then why can't it be done all over this country?" De Blasio said. "Why can't we build up a supply that can protect all of us?"
But he was quick to say this does not mean that the federal government's help is no longer necessary.
"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," the New York City mayor said. "But support us, get us the components, get us the help, so we can do this rapidly and protect ourselves."
Local manufacturers and 3D printers will produce the swabs used for collecting the nasal sample, as well as the tubes the specimen is transported in, while academic and commercial laboratories will produce the liquid solution the sample is stored in.
The mayor also announced that the city has confirmed the purchase of an additional 50,000 kits a week from an Indiana company. They will start arriving on Monday.
The combined production and purchase of test kits means the city should have about 400,000 testing kits available monthly starting in May. Testing is an essential part of getting the economy reopened.
Local companies are also gearing up to produce personal protective equipment (PPE). Eight companies in Brooklyn and Manhattan will start making face shields. They can now produce 240,000 each week and are rapidly scaling up to reach 465,000 a week by April 24. The mayor said the goal is 620,000 a week.
"It means we will be able to fulfill our entire need for face shields right here in New York City," de Blasio said. "We are going to be able to say New York City is self-sufficient, we will no longer be at the whim of the federal government or the international markets."
New York has a large and vibrant garment industry, and several companies have shifted from making clothes to surgical gowns to help meet the skyrocketing demand.
The mayor said five companies are already producing 30,000 surgical gowns a week and will scale up to 100,000 by next week. He said they hope to reach 250,000 gowns a week soon after, and even go beyond that.
"These are brand new production lines created from scratch by companies here, by New York City workers, in an atmosphere of crisis, and they have surpassed any possible expectation we could have and they are going farther," he said.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said testing has been a challenge from the beginning and he urged the federal government to take over responsibility for it.
"You want to talk about an increased federal role, let FEMA do the testing," he said of the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Cuomo told reporters at his daily press briefing in the state capital, Albany, that he wants to avoid a bidding war with other states over purchasing testing kits, both for diagnostic and antibody testing, as happened in the scramble to buy ventilators and personal protective equipment at the start of the crisis.