New York began the new year with more grim COVID-19 news, as the number of daily deaths from the virus rose Thursday to 166, the highest one-day death toll since May, while the number of coronavirus cases nationwide surpassed 20 million.
Meanwhile, officials in Florida were investigating a newly discovered case of a mutant variant of the coronavirus that appears to be much more contagious — the first case confirmed on the East Coast after the variant was found several days ago in California and Colorado.
Twenty-three Long Islanders were among those who died of the disease on Thursday: 12 from Suffolk and 11 from Nassau, according to a news release from the office of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo.
During the summer, the number of people who died statewide of COVID-19 each day typically was in the single digits. On Dec. 14, the daily death count surpassed 100 for the first time since the spring — and it has remained there every day since then except one.
The 166 deaths Thursday was up from 136 on Wednesday and is the highest number since May 12, according to the state Health Department.
More than 30,200 New Yorkers have died of COVID-19 since the pandemic began, including 2,401 people in Nassau and 2,311 in Suffolk.
The confirmed number of statewide deaths differs from the count by the Johns Hopkins University Coronavirus Resource Center, which uses different calculations — it includes probable as well as confirmed COVID-19 deaths — and lists the number of New York deaths through Friday afternoon as 38,155.
Nationwide as of Friday afternoon, the death toll surpassed 347,000 and the number of cases stood at nearly 20.1 million, according to Johns Hopkins. That's by far the highest caseload number in the world, and nearly double the number of confirmed cases in the second-hardest-hit country, India, even though India's population is more than four times larger.
The number of coronavirus hospitalizations statewide on Thursday fell to 7,886, Cuomo's office said. That’s down 49 from the day before, but the effects of Christmas, New Year’s Eve and other holiday gatherings have not yet been seen, as hospitalizations often lag new infections by a few weeks.
Nearly 1,300 of those hospitalized were in intensive care, with 776 of them intubated.
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The percentage of coronavirus tests that came back positive fell again in Suffolk and Nassau, although the number remains far higher than just a few weeks ago.
In Suffolk, 9.7% of the tests came back positive on Thursday, for a total of 1,874 new cases. The rate was 10.5% on Wednesday and 12.8% on Tuesday.
In Nassau County, 1,556 people — 8% of the total number of results — newly tested positive for the virus. That is down from 8.9% on Wednesday and 10.5% on Tuesday.
Statewide, the positivity rate was 7.52%.
Nassau County Executive Laura Curran said in a statement that "although expanding distribution and availability of the vaccine is a bright light at the end of this dark tunnel, we are still in the tunnel. Please continue to use common sense, avoiding large gatherings so we can kick off 2021 with a clear path to recovery."
New York City had 5,293 new coronavirus cases, according to the state.
Variant found in Florida
In Florida, that state's health department reported late Thursday that a man in his 20s with no history of recent travel had the coronavirus variant, called the U.K. strain, after the United Kingdom, where it was first detected and where it spread rapidly across southern England.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is working with the Florida Health Department in investigating the case.
The variant is a mutated and likely more infectious strain of the novel coronavirus. About half of the 350,000 known sequences of the virus come from the U.K., where authorities are pressing to reactivate field hospitals previously mothballed to handle the expected crush of new patients.
In San Diego County, California, officials said they believe the variant is "widespread in the community" because none of the four men there diagnosed with the strain had any known interaction with each other and at least three hadn't traveled outside the country.
At this time, experts have said they anticipate that the variant will have little or no influence on the effectiveness of the COVID-19 vaccine.
The discovery of the variant in California on Wednesday came as the state's hospitals are on "the brink of catastrophe," according to a health official there, as the pandemic pushed deaths and sickness to staggering levels and some medical centers scrambled to provide oxygen for the critically ill.
Infections in California have been racing out of control for weeks, and the state has routinely set new records for infections and deaths. The state now has the worst coronavirus diagnosis rate in the country.
California has nearly 26,000 COVID-19 deaths, putting it third after New York and Texas, where more than 27,000 people have died.
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