What to Know
- The tri-state is facing its steepest viral increases in months; New York hospitalizations are now on the cusp of 7,000, and Gov. Cuomo has reported 100+ daily deaths 10 of the last 11 days
- State data shows NY's positivity rate fell slightly even as hospitalizations continued to rise
- Cuomo sounded a note of cautious optimism on Christmas, the 300th day of the pandemic
Gov. Andrew Cuomo urged New Yorkers to remain vigilant in the fight against the coronavirus, saying in a Christmas Day statement that the state finds itself in a “footrace” to distribute the vaccine amid rising cases.
The latest statistics showed the state’s positivity rate falling slightly even as hospitalizations continued to rise.
The state on Friday announced 122 new deaths caused by COVID-19, bringing the state’s official count to 29,270. But the governor sounded a note of cautious optimism on the 300th day of the pandemic.
“New York made it through Thanksgiving better than most places, so as we celebrate Christmas today it’s critical we retain that momentum and remember that celebrating smart stops shutdowns,” the Democrat said. “While the vaccine is now here, we are still months away from widespread vaccination and finally reaching that light at the end of the tunnel.”
Cuomo also applauded the announcement by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention late Thursday that the United States will require airline passengers from Britain to get a negative COVID-19 test before their flight.
Several other countries have implemented similar travel restrictions because of a new variant of the coronavirus spreading in Britain and elsewhere.
“I called for the federal government to reverse its policy and am glad to see that it has now done so,” Cuomo said. “Testing people for COVID-19 before they get on planes is common sense.”
Earlier this week, Gov. Andrew Cuomo got three major airlines that fly passengers between the U.K. and New York daily -- Virgin Atlantic, British Airways and Delta -- to agree to require negative COVID-19 tests before departure as well.
On Wednesday, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced new measures to protect New York City from the new COVID strain, which has not yet been detected in the U.S. Effective immediately, U.K. travelers to New York City will be personally served a Department of Health commissioner quarantine order by the sheriff's office.
"This will be a personal and direct order to every single one of them telling them they must quarantine," the mayor said. "People are going to be held responsible."
The travel unit will knock on hotel or home doors to ensure compliance. Beyond U.K. travelers, all people coming into the city will receive a commissioner quarantine order via certified mail. Each day a person is found in violation of the quarantine order incurs a $1,000 fine.
"We cannot take chances with anyone who travels, particularly folks traveling in from the U.K.,” de Blasio said. “We don’t want to penalize people. Everyone’s been through hell this year. We don’t want to, but if you don’t follow quarantine you’re endangering everyone else in the city, right as we’re fighting the second wave.”
The developments come as New York City tries to fight back its steepest viral increases in months. The numbers are up across the board statewide as well.
On Friday, statewide hospitalizations hit 6,950, the highest total since May 12 as Cuomo reported 12,446 new cases, the third-highest number in a single day (that record was set less than a week ago, the same day a record number of daily tests were reported). Also on Friday, the governor reported more than 100 daily deaths (122) for the tenth time in 11 days, yet another reason to fear the potential introduction of a viral mutation that could spread more easily than the last strain.
Little is known about the strain at this point, though early evidence suggests it is up to 50 percent more transmissible and may more easily infect children. There is no evidence yet that the new strain is more lethal or causes more severe infections, but if it spreads more easily, it will by default lead to more cases, which will lead to more hospitalizations and some level of increase in deaths as well.
According to the CDC, the new strain, dubbed SARS-CoV-2 VUI 202012/01, became prevalent in southeast England in November and accounts for up to 60 percent of recent infections in London. Viruses mutate all the time, the agency notes, so this one could have emerged by chance. Or it "may be emerging because it is better fit to spread in humans," the CDC said.
The U.K. variant has not yet been detected in the U.S. Ireland, Germany and Israel became the latest to confirm it this week, adding to a list that includes Denmark, the Netherlands and Australia, the World Health Organization says. While it hasn't yet been found in the U.S., the CDC says it may already be circulating here undetected. The agency has sequenced genetic coding from less than 0.3 percent of U.S. cases, it says, so the mutation may have slipped by undetected.
Cuomo believes the new strain is already in New York -- if something spreads globally, it ends up here. But he wants to know when it's confirmed, and where it's been detected. The governor has ordered hospitals across the state to test for the mutation. The Wadsworth Center, a state lab, has sequenced genetic coding from 3,700 New York samples thus far and has not detected the mutation, Cuomo said.
The lab and the Department of Health forged agreements with six hospitals to obtain additional samples and are working with others to acquire more test data. Hospitals can send positive COVID samples to be tested for the new strain, the governor said Wednesday. Email COVIDstrain@health.ny.gov for more details.
"If it's here, we want to know it, we want to isolate it immediately," Cuomo said. "If it is more easily transmissible, we want to catch it in the crib. We want to find patient zero on that variant."