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WAMC News

Cuomo: Airlines Should Test For COVID-19 Amid UK Strain Worries

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Santa Claus.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and a special guest.
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New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and a special guest.

British Airways, Virgin Atlantic, and Delta Airlines have agreed to test passengers on flights bound for New York City for COVID-19, after the discovery of a mutated, more contagious, strain of the virus in the United Kingdom led to a Christmas lockdown of that country. Governor Andrew Cuomo says ultimately, he’d like the U.S. to join 40 other countries that have imposed a complete travel ban on arrivals from Great Britain. 

Cuomo is warning that the new strain might already be in the U.S. and could cause another wave of infection. He says he believes it may already have arrived with the several thousand passengers a day that have continued to fly between Heathrow airport and JFK and La Guardia airports in New York City.

“I believe, intuitively it’s already here,” Cuomo said. “Because if it’s been flying around the world, it will be here.”

Cuomo would like the administration of President Donald Trump to join the other countries and also ground planes from the UK to the U.S.. The governor says last spring, the virus most likely came to New York through infected persons on European flights, which were not curtailed by federal officials until later in 2020.

“We saw this movie,” Cuomo said. “Yes, I think the U.S. should halt travel.”

The governor believes that testing the passengers for COVID, then banning anyone who tests positive, will help, but is not the best answer. 

The governor also says the first batch of vaccines continue to arrive in New York. 346,000 doses of the Moderna vaccine are on the way, and 120,000 more doses are coming from Pfizer, for a total of 630,000 shots so far. 

He says 38,000 frontline health care workers have already received the first of the two doses of the vaccine. Vaccination of nursing home residents and staff begins later this week, and is expected to take six weeks to complete.

Cuomo has appointed a special panel to review distribution of vaccines, when more become available. Members include the state’s Attorney General Tish James, the President of the Health Care Workers Union SEIU-1199, and NAACP leader Hazel Dukes. 

The New York Times reported on interest groups who are lobbying to win their members a higher priority designation on the vaccination list, including Uber, and the union representing hotel workers.

Cuomo says the vaccines will be given out based on science, not political favoritism.

“There is no politics in the vaccination process,” he said. 

Cuomo says he’s decided to wait to get vaccinated himself. Initially he planned to get the shot publicly to help build public confidence. But he says he’s not in a special category and has no underlying health conditions, so he wants to wait until essential workers get their vaccines.

“I would take it today,” Cuomo  said. “But I don’t want the flip side of people saying well, ‘that was a vaccine that could have gone to an essential worker.’”

Cuomo spoke on a day when the latest numbers show the  statewide positivity rate for the virus was at 5.75%. 6331 were in the hospital, 1095 in intensive care.  09 New Yorkers died from the virus on Sunday.

There was one bit of good news in the governor’s briefing. He says he has allowed a special exemption for New York’s travel quarantine requirement for Santa Claus, who’s been given the green light to deliver presents to households late Thursday night and early Friday morning. But Cuomo says Santa will have to wear a mask.

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