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Cuomo Says U.K. Strain Of COVID Detected In NY

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo at his briefing May 5, 2020.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo at his briefing May 5, 2020.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Monday the U.K. strain of COVID-19 has been confirmed in Saratoga County, in a symptomatic man in his 60s who is now recovering. Cuomo says the man hasn’t traveled, suggesting community spread of the strain. Cuomo, who says the man was associated with N. Fox Jewelers on Broadway in Saratoga Springs, is urging anyone who shopped there between December 18 and December 24 to get a COVID test and contact the state Department of Health. The new strain is believed to be more easily transmitted. Saratoga County Public Health Services says it is working with the state health department to address the situation at N. Fox Jewelers. The county said employees were being swabbed Monday and the state will be offering free testing to patrons who were at the store between December 18 and December 24. That testing will take place at Saratoga State Park from 1 to 6 p.m. Tuesday as well as from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.

Meanwhile, in New York, like in most of the nation, the COVID-19 vaccination rollout is behind schedule, and Cuomo is threatening to withhold new doses from hospitals that do not speed things up. 

In New York, like in most of the nation, the COVID-19 vaccination rollout is behind schedule, and Governor Cuomo is threatening to withhold new doses from hospitals that do not speed things up.

300,000 vaccines have been administered in New York to frontline health care workers and some nursing home residents and staff, but that’s less than half of the vaccines that began shipping to the state three weeks ago. Governor Cuomo expressing what he calls “constructive impatience,” says that’s not good enough.

“I want to get the needles in the arms,” said Cuomo. “And I want to get that done as quickly as possible." 

The Democrat blames the federal government for the slow rollout in nursing homes, where just half of residents and one-third of staff have received the first doses of the vaccines, since they were made available on December 21. New York joined a federal plan which contracted with CVS and Walgreens to give out the vaccines. But the governor says the state will now send its own personnel into the homes to speed up the process, or let the nursing homes who have qualified staff do the vaccinations themselves. He hopes that 85% of residents can be vaccinated by the end of the week.  

Hospitals are responsible for the initial round of vaccines for essential health care workers, but the success rate has been uneven. Some hospitals, like New York Presbyterian Healthcare system, and smaller ones, including Adirondack Medical Center and Oswego Hospital have already used up  almost all of their vaccines.

New York City’s public hospital system has used just 31% of its allotted vaccine doses. And a number of larger hospital groups, including Northwell Health downstate and Erie County Medical Center in Buffalo, have given out 62% of their allotment.

Cuomo says the underperforming hospitals will face sanctions, including a fine of up to $100,000 if they don’t use up all of the vaccine they have in-store by the end of the week. They can also be disqualified for any future distribution of the vaccine.

“If your hospital doesn’t have the capacity, then just say that,” Cuomo said. “Which is fine, and then we’ll give it to a different hospital.”

The state’s health commissioner, Dr. Howard Zucker, has sent a letter outlining the new rules. He says hospitals must act with a “sense of urgency” to save lives.  

Cuomo last month said the major hospital in each region of the state would be responsible for distributing vaccines to the general public once they become available. But he says based on the hospitals uneven performance so far, he’s rethinking that plan.

He says the state will set up vaccination distribution sites in convention centers and field hospitals, as well as drive-through vaccination sites. 

Even as the vaccinations lag, Cuomo announced that more people will be eligible for the doses, all health care workers now qualify to receive the vaccine.  

The governor spoke on a day when the positivity rate for the virus statewide was at 8.3% and the number of people in hospitals with COVID-19 has grown to over 8,000, the highest number since early May.  There were 170 deaths from the virus on Sunday, which Cuomo says is a “terrible way to start the New Year.”

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of public radio stations in New York state. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.
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