Cuomo calls on N.Y. hospitals to test for highly contagious U.K. COVID variant

Cuomo calls on N.Y. hospitals to test for highly contagious U.K. COVID variant

NYS Governor Andrew Cuomo holds press briefing and announcement at the office on 3rd Avenue. – New York, NY – September 8, 2020 (Shutterstock)

By Denis Slattery, NY Daily News

ALBANY — Gov. Cuomo is calling on New York hospitals and labs to specifically test for a new, highly contagious COVID mutation found in the United Kingdom.

The governor, who a day earlier worked out a deal with airlines requiring travelers from the U.K. to report a negative coronavirus test before flying to the Empire State, said he believes the new strain is likely already in the U.S.

“If the variant is here, I want to know, because that would be problematic,” Cuomo said Tuesday during a phone briefing with reporters. “We want to test for the variant. If it’s here, we want to know it. We want to isolate it immediately.

“If it’s here,” he added, “where is it?”

The governor has fumed at the federal government in recent days, blasting the Trump administration for not acting swiftly in response to the discovery of the new strain of the deadly virus.

Random sampling of about 4,000 COVID tests have already been completed in the state with no sign of the mutation. Cuomo said officials will work with hospitals to ensure that they have the tools needed to complete the more complex testing method, and contact tracing could help track the spread.

The state’s Wadsworth lab in Albany and the Department of Health have forged agreements with six hospitals from across New York to obtain additional samples, officials said.

“Any hospital that has the lab capacity to take the test, we will be providing them with the ability and the testing reagents,” he said.

The World Health Organization has said while the variant, which has led to lockdowns in the U.K. and travel bans across Europe, may spread more easily from person to person, it isn’t necessarily more dangerous or deadly.

On Monday, three airlines that fly from the U.K. into New York voluntarily agreed with the governor’s request to ensure passengers test negative for COVID-19 before crossing the Atlantic.

Cuomo, meanwhile, said hospital capacity remains the biggest concern, citing places like California that have seen medical centers overwhelmed by patients in recent days as cases rise across the state and around the nation and vaccination efforts ramp up.

“You see California now has a hospital emergency and is rationing health care. So that gives you a sense of the ultimate collapse here is the collapse of a hospital system … We’re keeping an eye on the hospital capacity,” he said.

New York’s current metric calls on hospitals to notify the state if they are approaching 85% capacity in a three-week period. That would raise red flags and allow officials to step in and assist any medical facility about to become overburdened by COVID patients.

“No hospital in the state has told us that they’re at that point,” Cuomo said.

More than 50,000 New Yorkers have received initial doses of COVID-19 vaccines so far as nursing home residents and staff remain the state’s top priority.

Immunizations began at more than 618 elder care facilities this week and Cuomo, pushing pharmacies and health care workers administering the inoculations to work through the holiday weekend, said initial doses at those sites could be completed within two weeks.

The state has received 630,000 doses thus far and expects to receive another 300,000 doses next week.

The statewide positivity rate was 5.8% on Monday as 6,661 people remain hospitalized due to the virus. Another 139 New Yorkers died of COVID in the past day.

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