A Nassau County man has the COVID-19 variant associated with the United Kingdom that is potentially a more contagious strain of the coronavirus, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said Saturday, as the state hit records in the number of tests collected and vaccines administered.
The Massapequa man is 64 years old and unrelated to the Saratoga Springs man, also in his 60s, who was the first reported case of the variant in New York, Cuomo said.
Nassau County Department of Health officials said the case was being investigated and did not provide more information.
Health officials also found two more positive cases of the variant that were linked to the Saratoga Springs man, Cuomo said, bringing the state's known cases of the UK-mutated virus to four. The first case of the variant in New York was reported by Cuomo on Monday.
"That brings the number of UK cases in this country to just about 55, and we believe that it is more widespread than that number would suggest," Cuomo said in a telephone conference call. "That is, again, as far as I'm concerned, a situation where the federal government was asleep at the switch."
The strain, identified as "B117" by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, has been found in Colorado, California and Florida, and at least 33 countries. It is believed to be more transmissible than the predominant version of the virus. Cuomo noted last week that it is not thought to be resistant to COVID-19 vaccines or any more deadly.
The presence of the variant could complicate the state's effort to bring COVID-19 under control, if it sends cases and hospitalizations even higher.
Nassau officials react
Nassau County Executive Laura Curran said she hopes "everyone just remains calm about this" news of the variant being detected in the county.
"Whatever variant it is, we know that wearing a mask, we know that social distancing and avoiding those large gatherings, washing hands, those very, very simple things, really do work, whether it’s this variant or that variant," Curran said as she spoke outside a new county coronavirus vaccination site in New Cassel.
Dr. Lawrence Eisenstein, Nassau’s health commissioner, said the county is conducting contact tracing and coronavirus testing, which will determine if others also have the same variant.
Curran said 10 Nassau County residents died Friday of COVID-19 and 761 were hospitalized with the disease, with 115 in intensive care. State figures show 15 Suffolk County residents died of the virus on Friday.
"Our numbers remain high," Curran said. "Hospitalizations and positivity are double what they were just in the fall."
Curran said even though a second COVID-19 wave had been expected, "I think we underestimated how difficult it would be to practice this very important [COVID-19 prevention] guidance we all know about during the holiday season. We know that about three quarters of positive cases stem from social gatherings, and we just passed the season of many, many social gatherings."
Focus on vaccine distribution
The state Department of Health talked to distributors over the weekend, Cuomo said, as part of the effort to expand the network of sites able to offer and administer the COVID-19 vaccine. Cuomo had expanded on Friday the pool of people eligible to take the vaccine after he faced mounting pressure over a slow rollout. He also expanded the state's distribution and vaccination network.
Health care workers are in Group 1A and remain the priority for the state's remaining supply of vaccinations. Teachers, police, firefighters, public transit workers and people 75 and older are in Group 1B and become eligible Monday to get vaccinated.
"This is a matter of life and death and getting these vaccines administered is a top priority," the governor said.
About 259,000 doses of the vaccine were administered in the first full week of 2021, the fourth week since the vaccine rollout began in New York, Cuomo said. In the first week of the rollout, 33,000 doses were administered, followed by 102,000 the second week and 148,000 in the third week, he said.
"It's most important to get the health care workers vaccinated, especially with this UK strain out there," Cuomo said. "The UK strain is incredibly virulent and dangerous."
Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone said in a tweet Saturday that a website and call center will launch Monday for those in Groups 1A and 1B to sign up for vaccines, though a web address and phone number were not provided.
The statewide seven-day average positivity level was 7.70%, down from 7.88% on Thursday. Virus-related hospitalizations continued to hover around 8,500, with 8,527 on Friday, down by 34 since Thursday, Cuomo said. He added that 188 people died Friday from the virus.
Long Island had a seven-day average 9.70% positivity level, slightly up from 9.68% on Thursday and 9.51% on Wednesday. New York City's positivity level was 6.26%, down from 6.42% the day before and 6.38% on Wednesday.
Across the state, 258,000 tests were administered — the "highest testing number ever" in one day, Cuomo said.
About 17,000 tests were positive, including 1,742 in Nassau and 2,002 in Suffolk, state figures showed.
With David Olson
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