New York Governor Andrew Cuomo Monday said the state has identified its first case of a new, more infectious variant of the coronavirus that was first discovered in the U.K. It was detected in a man in his 60s in Saratoga Springs, about 200 miles north of New York City.
He was a jeweler who hadn’t traveled out of the country recently and is thought to have become infected through community spread.
The strain, found so far in California, Florida and Colorado, is more easily transmitted, experts have said, but doesn’t appear to make people sicker. Currently available vaccines are also said to work as effectively on the mutated Covid-19 strain. The problem is it risks multiplying cases and overwhelming hospital systems.
Cuomo made the announcement in a short press call this afternoon just as England announced a new national lockdown because of the new variant. His regularly scheduled late-morning briefing didn’t address the variant but focused mostly on the rollout of vaccinations and New York’s infection rate, which has been rising — possibly, he said, due to the new variant — but is still well below most of the rest of the country.
The governor said New York has done 5,000 tests specifically for the new strain and that he believes if other states tested as much they would probably have found it as well. He has warned repeatedly, even before the first U.S. case was revealed, that the new strain would certainly have migrated to the U.S. Last spring, New York became an epicenter of the coronavirus infection that entered the state from Europe as federal officials were focused on China.
Cuomo said New York’s positivity rate is 8.4% including so-called micro-clusters, which are most pronounced in the Finger Lakes region. He noted that the Bronx has ticked up, as has Staten Island but that Manhattan has a relatively low 3.5% positivity due to a higher percentage of compliance.
The relatively low stats have been good news so far for New York City production which has been up and running for several months. Movie theaters, however, have not reopened in NYC although they are operating at reduced capacity across the rest of the state.
On the opposite coast, SAG-AFTRA and the Producers Guild just joined advertisers in recommending that on-set commercial production be temporarily shuttered in Southern California because of surging coronavirus outbreaks in the region, effective immediately. The major studios and streamers, meanwhile, are already on production hiatus in Southern California until mid-January. California Gov. Gavin Newsom warned today of a new surge coming in days.
According to the New York governor, most regions of the state are hovering at hospital capacity of around 30%, reiterating that any area that comes “within striking distance” of 15% capacity would be declared a red zone and closed down.
Cuomo slammed some hospital systems — including chastising NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio — that aren’t vaccinating people, including their own workers, fast enough and said that they’ll be fined and won’t be eligible to receive more vaccines if they don’t speed it up. He called his attitude one of “constructive impatience.”
“I am being very aggressive.. I don’t want the vaccine in a freezer. I want it in someone’s arm,” he said.
He also plans to propose a new law with criminal penalties for health care providers or organizations that allow people to skip in line and get vaccines before they’re eligible. Vaccines “will be like gold to some people,” he said. “Mark my words” — there will be cases of fraud.