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Saratoga County Updates Public After Discovery Of U.K. COVID Variant

Saratoga County EMS Coordinator Mike McEvoy
Image capture by WAMC from Zoom/Facebook Live
Saratoga County EMS Coordinator Mike McEvoy

Officials provided an update Tuesday on the recent discovery of the U.K. variant of COVID-19 in Saratoga County, traced to the N. Fox jewelry store in downtown Saratoga Springs. Governor Andrew Cuomo on Tuesday called the new strain “highly problematic” and said its spread in New York could be a “game changer.”

“Anyone who is exposed, or anyone who exposed to someone who was exposed, please contact us. There’s nothing to be ashamed of, this is a virus, it travels…but we have to know. Containment is vitally important here,” said Cuomo.

New York State Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker said contact tracing has been underway for all who were in the store on Broadway.   

No other cases of the new strain have yet been identified, but Zucker said the state is testing for the variant at a rate that outpaces the federal government’s response.

“It takes 44 hours or so to the actual genome testing. So we learned about this yesterday, we got the samples yesterday, and we are doing this — as soon as we have answers we can provide that,” said Zucker.

A new drive-up testing site began operating in Saratoga Springs at Saratoga Performing Arts Center Tuesday afternoon and will remain open through Friday.

Saratoga County’s seven-day positive test rate for COVID Tuesday was 10.7 percent. In the last seven days, more than 1,200 new cases were reported as numbers spike after Christmas and New Year’s Eve.

In an update this afternoon, Saratoga County EMS Coordinator Mike McEvoy said while the new strain has not been observed to make people more sick in other countries, its apparent ability to spread quickly could place further strain on public health services if it spreads locally.

“If there’s a widespread outbreak of it, we would have more people ill in a community faster and our capacity to take care of those people in Public Health and in the hospitals could potentially be compromised,” said McEvoy.

Meantime, COVID-19 vaccines continue to be given to the highest risk members of the public, such as nursing home residents and frontline healthcare workers.

McEvoy said 1,500 doses of vaccine were received by the county on Tuesday, an amount he said would be enough to provide doses to residents in the state’s “1a” vaccine eligibility tier. He expected “1b” vaccinations to begin by the end of the month.

The county’s public health services office in Ballston Spa is serving as a point-of-distribution site, while the county works to identify other possible PODs. Again McEvoy…

“And some of our residents may be familiar with this because we’ve run PODs up in Corinth, for example, we’ve PODs run in Moreau, we’ve run them in Mechanicville, and we’ll probably seek to spread those out so that we can get the most coverage of the community and put them in locations that are easily accessible to the publc,” said McEvoy.

McEvoy said county phone lines have been overloaded with residents calling with questions about the vaccine. He asked the public to go online to the county’s public health services website, which has information on the vaccine, COVID-19 variants, the county’s data dashboard, and other information.

But even city officials say they need more information. Saratoga Springs Mayor Meg Kelly says there’s been a lack of communication with the county.

“I have heard nothing with the county on how they’re rolling out the vaccination process. I have been in contact with the hospital, they have not heard from the county. We have a problem at the county level with communication with the public and with elected officials on how this rollout is going to happen,” said Kelly.

Officials continue to stress COVID-19 safety guidelines: wash hands frequently, remain socially distanced and stay home, avoid gatherings, and wear a mask in public or when social distancing isn’t possible.

Lucas Willard is a reporter and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which he joined in 2011.
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