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UK Variant Spread Jumps Again in NY; State Vaccine Sites Prepare for Next Wave of Eligible NYers

A variant of the coronavirus suspected by national health officials to become the prominent strain of the virus in the U.S. within a matter of months has jumped again in New York.

State lab tests confirmed an additional 11 cases of the U.K. variant, bringing the state’s total to 70, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Saturday. Of those new cases, eight were found in people living in New York City and the remaining three are tied to Suffolk and Rockland County, according to the governor. Outside of the city, 13 counties have at least one case of the variant.

New Yorkers are to be commended for their efforts in fighting back the virus and lowering the spread of the virus, Cuomo said in his Saturday press release. Despite new variant cases, he pointed to successes in a continued decline in the state’s overall positivity rate and a new low in hospitalizations not seen since Christmas. 6,888 people were hospitalized for the virus as of Saturday.

“Hospitalization and infection rates are continuing to fall statewide and New Yorkers should be commended for all their hard work and sacrifice which helped make this a reality,” Cuomo said. “If we are to win this war against COVID once and for all, we must keep driving down these rates, as well as to get as many shots into arms as possible.”

Cases of the highly contagious U.K. strain have soared across the U.S. in recent weeks and now stand at 981, a 5 percent increase between the CDC’s Tuesday and Thursday reports but a 42 percent increase between Sunday and Thursday.

Since then, totals rose locally in New York to 70, in New Jersey to 36 and in Connecticut to 20, though tri-state officials the actual number of variant cases are likely much higher than reported, given the exhaustive genetic sequencing process required to detect a variant in an individual sample.

“We’re deeply concerned about these variants, they’re the x-factor right now,” de Blasio said on WNYC Friday. “I think it’s fine to take those incremental steps. I want to see our economy come back but if at any point the data suggests we got to take a step back for a time, we got to listen to that and react.”

With new COVID-19 variants from the U.K., South Africa and Brazil now spreading, doctors are rushing to vaccinate as many Americans as possible before more mutations arise. Dr. Natasha Bhuyan, a regional director of One Medical, joined LX News to talk about why vaccines are so important right now and how she encourages her patients to overcome their skepticism about it.

Overall, vaccines are expected to protect against the variants that have emerged and the new ones that will over time. Of greater concern, top federal officials say, is that they could lead to new case explosions at a critically vulnerable time for the country, with the goal of herd immunity via vaccination many months away.

New Yorkers age 16 to 64 with those pre-existing conditions can start scheduling appointments at state-run sites Sunday, with Monday still being the first day they can get shots. The state has warned the influx of newly eligible New Yorkers, some of them among the most vulnerable, could mark the biggest stress test the already taxed and still young system has seen so far. Expect frustration, they said.

The state’s “Am I Eligible” screening tool will be updated to reflect eligibility 8 a.m. on Sunday for those with comorbidities and underlying health conditions. New appointments will be released on a rolling basis over the coming weeks, according to the state. Documentation or proof of comorbidity is required to show eligibility.

As of Friday, New York City had fewer than 98,500 first doses left on hand. City-run programs have administered nearly 775,000 first doses to date, about 89 percent of the total they have received. The city’s eligibility pool will expand considerably in just a matter of days, when people with qualifying underlying health conditions earn their chance to start scheduling appointments Monday.

To date, state healthcare distribution sites have administered about 90 percent of all first doses received, amounting to nearly 1.92 million shots. Just more than 10 percent of the 19 million people who call New York home have had at least one shot (a disproportionate share of them white people). Experts say the low threshold for herd immunity is 75 percent. The ideal is closer to 85 percent.

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