A New York lab confirmed the state's first known case of a patient infected with the Brazilian COVID-19 variant, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced on Saturday, the same day the state reached a vaccination milestone: one in every four New Yorkers has received at least one dose of the vaccine.
The P.1 variant is the latest in a series of COVID-19 strains detected in the Empire State. Doctors at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City detected the variant in a Brooklyn resident in their 90s with no travel history, Cuomo said Saturday. He added that the DOH and city's department of health is investigating the case.
"While it's normal for a virus to mutate, the best way to protect yourself is to continue to wear a well-fitted mask, avoid large crowds, social distance, wash your hands and get vaccinated when it's your turn," the governor said.
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The Wadsworth Center, the lab that confirmed the Brazilian variant in the Brooklyn resident, is examining approximately 90 virus samples every day looking for positives, the state said. So far, the lab has sequences more than 8,200 virus samples from across the state.
The presence of COVID variants is hardly new for New York City. Dr. Dave Chokshi, the city's health commissioner, and other officials last week revealed a preliminary in-depth report on the presence of variants in the five boroughs. It found that two variants -- the U.K. one and another that first originated in Manhattan's Washington Heights -- accounted for 51 percent of all current cases citywide.
Notably, Chokshi and Dr. Jay Varma, senior public health adviser to the mayor's office, said the two prime variants in New York City only appeared to have heightened levels of infectiousness, not greater risk of severe illness or death.
The B.1.1.7 variant, the highly contagious variant first identified in the U.K., likely accounts for up to 30 percent of the country's infections, White House Chief Medical Advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci said Friday. Officials believe it will become the dominant strain later this month or by early April.
More than 5 million New Yorkers have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine and half of those people have been fully vaccinated against the virus, Cuomo also announced Saturday.
The number of people vaccinated in the state has sped up significantly in recent weeks aided by the expansion of new vaccination sites across the state and a growing supply of doses from the government. In the past seven days alone, the governor said, over one million doses were administered.
"One in every four New Yorkers has now received at least one dose of the vaccine, and we are continuing our outreach across the state to address hesitancy and accessibility so that we can continue getting shots into people's arms as quickly as possible," Cuomo said in a statement Saturday.
The early inoculation milestone comes amid major steps in reopening the Empire State and a plateau of virus cases and hospitalizations that were on a rapid decline from the winter peak.
New York City and New Jersey indoor dining capacity were boosted to 50 percent on Friday for the first time since the March 2020 shutdown, and New York restaurants outside the five boroughs jump to 75 percent capacity. The coordinated reopening is slightly different in Connecticut, where capacity restrictions lift entirely for most businesses.
That plateau of new virus cases has kept New York, and New Jersey next door, with some of the highest percentage of cases in the country.
The CDC reports the rate of cases per 100,000 over a seven-day rolling basis for all U.S. states but breaks out New York City from New York state in its reporting. As of its latest update, the CDC says New Jersey leads all states in that seven-day case rate, reporting more than 300 per 100,000 residents. New York City is No. 2 and New York state is No. 4.
Hospitalization and death rates from COVID, though, are substantially down in recent months.
Officials say those are the most crucial metrics. New York City health leaders attributed the high plateau in cases this week to a combination of variant-related spread and the fact that younger people, who have received notorious blame nationally for flouting protocol at times and going mask-less, have not been vaccinated yet. The most at-risk populations have; the plunge in more severe COVID cases, they say, shows vaccines are doing their critical job.
Daily Percentage of Positive Tests by New York Region
Gov. Andrew Cuomo breaks the state into 10 regions for testing purposes and tracks positivity rates to identify potential hotspots. Here's the latest tracking data by region and for the five boroughs. For the latest county-level results statewide, click here
Cuomo has said he's proceeding on a reopening course driven by data around risk factors and infection rates and will recalibrate that course if the data changes. Lately, that reopening has been a collision course between mayor and governor.
"Is this being done because of what the data and science is telling us or is this being done for political reasons?" de Blasio asked Thursday. "Because it sure as hell looks like a lot of these decisions are being made by the governor because of his political needs."
Even as the governor and mayor remain at odds over some logistics -- ones that appear to transcend the logistics associated with reopening -- the two agree on at least one key point: Take any vaccine you can when it's your turn. They all work.
Both Cuomo and de Blasio received their single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccines this week before cameras. The governor did it Wednesday, while the mayor followed a day later. De Blasio's top health team, Chokshi, Varma and NYC Health + Hospitals President and CEO Dr. Mitchell Katz, all received vaccinations this past weekend. They each got a different brand to drive home the point.
The oft-spoken goal of herd immunity, for which Cuomo puts the low threshold at around 75 percent, remains a still seemingly far-off objective, even as the pace of vaccinations have scaled up rapidly across the board in recent weeks.
On Friday, 10 new mass vaccination centers across the state opened up, including three on Long Island and one in the city. Sen Chuck Schumer said that New York will be getting a vaccine supercharge in the coming weeks — getting 1.65 million doses a week by the end of April.
The eligibility pool, which now holds more than 12 million people, most recently expanded Wednesday. No further new eligibility dates have been set at this point in the Empire State.