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Brazilian COVID-19 variant found for first time in NY, state says

Nassau County Executive Laura Curran spoke at a

Nassau County Executive Laura Curran spoke at a news conference in New Hyde Park Saturday at the latest pop-up COVID-19 vaccination site, in a partnership with Northwell Health. Credit: Debbie Egan-Chin

A coronavirus variant that studies show is more contagious has been detected for the first time in New York, in a Brooklyn resident, the office of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced Saturday afternoon.

The P.1 variant, sometimes referred to as the "Brazilian variant" because it was first detected among Brazilian travelers in Japan, was identified in a Brooklyn resident in his or her 90s, the state said.

P.1 is about 2½ times more contagious than earlier versions of the coronavirus and is linked to a quadrupling in cases in Manaus, Brazil, late last year and early this year, Brazilian researchers wrote in a non-peer-reviewed paper posted on the medRxiv website on March 9.

Scientists are studying whether vaccines are less effective against P.1 and whether the variant is more deadly. There were 48 known U.S. cases of the variant as of Thursday, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Experts have warned that because most coronavirus test samples are not analyzed for variants, the extent of the spread of variants in New York is unclear.

Another more contagious strain, the B.1.1.7. variant, known as the "U.K. variant," was first detected in New York in early January, and the B.1.351 variant, the so-called "South African variant," was detected in New York last month.

Experts have warned of the danger of the variants to spread the coronavirus more quickly, and state health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker emphasized Saturday the importance of taking precautions like wearing masks as vaccinations continue.

"This is a race between the vaccine and the variants," Zucker said in a statement.

The governor's office also announced Saturday that COVID-19 hospitalizations and the positivity rate for the virus remained roughly level on Friday.

The seven-day average of positivity rates was at 3.26% for the second day, slightly higher than a week ago.

Experts say the risk for unvaccinated residents has been growing because of the variants, and that positivity numbers would have gone up if not for the 13% of New Yorkers who have been fully vaccinated.

The 4,513 hospitalizations on Friday were down by 14 from Thursday and less than half of the nearly 9,300 hospitalized on Jan. 19. Daily hospitalization numbers have been fluctuating since March 13, when 4,486 people were hospitalized, state data shows.

Hospitalizations and positivity rates have plateaued at levels far higher than during the summer and early fall, when positivity rates were consistently at about 1% or below, and hospitalizations were below 1,000 from late June through mid-October, falling as low as 410.

Six of the 62 people who died of COVID-19 on Friday were from Nassau County and four were from Suffolk.

Of the 7,623 positive coronavirus test results Friday, 767 were in Suffolk and 697 in Nassau.

Getting shots into arms

Cuomo’s office also announced that more than 25% of state residents have received at least one dose of the vaccine, including nearly 580,000 Long Islanders.

In Nassau County, more than 30% of residents — about 40% of adults — have gotten at least one dose, County Executive Laura Curran said Saturday morning at a pop-up vaccination site at Northwell Health in Lake Success.

A link for appointments to get vaccines at Nassau Coliseum is set to go live on "in the next day or so," she said.

At West Islip High School, a flurry of COVID-19 cases among students has postponed the return to full in-person learning for juniors, who were scheduled to come back Monday, officials said.

Superintendent Bernadette Burns sent a message to parents saying that six new positive cases were found on Friday, bringing the total to 19 since March 14. A total of 135 students are now in quarantine, she said.

Juniors, sophomores and freshmen will continue in hybrid learning, and seniors will remain on a full in-person schedule.

High vaccination rate for LI hospital workers

Meanwhile, Long Island hospitals are reporting vaccination rates among their employees above the 66% level found among front-line hospital workers nationwide in a Washington Post/Kaiser Family Foundation poll released Friday.

At Mount Sinai South Nassau hospital in Oceanside, 80% of employees and doctors with privileges have been vaccinated, said chief medical officer Dr. Adhi Sharma.

Almost all doctors have been vaccinated, with vaccine hesitancy more common among employees with less medical education who are influenced by the same misinformation about vaccines as the general public, he said.

At Stony Brook University Hospital, 82% of front-line employees have been at least partially vaccinated. At Northwell Health hospitals and at NYU Langone Hospital-Long Island in Mineola, 70% have, officials at the hospitals said.

"We think that’s pretty good, although we’d like to get that even higher," said Northwell CEO Michael J. Dowling.

Across Long Island, 80% of hospital employees have received at least one dose, and statewide 78% have, according to state data.

With David Reich-Hale, Craig Schneider and AP

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