Twin Threats – Holiday Travel, New COVID Strain – Unnerve Tri-State as Vaccine Race Continues – NBC New York

Twin Threats – Holiday Travel, New COVID Strain – Unnerve Tri-State as Vaccine Race Continues – NBC New York

What to Know

  • Despite all the talk about a new NY shutdown over the last few weeks, Gov. Andrew Cuomo continues to say harsh new restrictions aren’t inevitable; NYers just have to make it through one more stretch
  • These upcoming end-of-year holidays will be the longest socialization stretch, he says; if New York can avoid a significant spike related to travel or gatherings, it’s just a “sprint, us versus the vaccine”
  • NYC has administered more than 30,000 doses and reported one adverse reaction — a severe allergic response in a healthcare worker

Officials across the tri-state area are issuing their last-ditch pleas Wednesday to avoid travel, wear masks and limit gatherings — as fears of a more virulent COVID-19 strain identified in the U.K. making its way to the region predominate the conversation.

New hospital admissions in New York have leveled off this week — averaging about 750 new patients per day — but Gov. Andrew Cuomo says fewer people are getting discharged. It’s not clear why, he says. What is clear, in the governor’s view, is that the numbers are only going to rise between now and New Year’s Eve.

If they rise to a point where any individual hospital in the state notifies the health department it is 21 days from hitting 85 percent capacity, that would begin a churning of the state’s economic shutdown mechanisms for the given region. No hospital has notified the state of such an imminent capacity threat yet — and Cuomo says he believes it won’t come to that if New Yorkers are responsible.

The coronavirus is making its second march through the area – and the frontline fighters who were there in April are back in the trenches. Marc Santia reports.

“Celebrate smart, stop shutdowns,” Cuomo said Tuesday, asking people to mitigate the potential impact on hospital systems by exercising the appropriate behavior. If people can make it through this last stretch of heightened risk, it’ll just be a “footrace” to large-scale vaccine distribution, Cuomo said.

That’s also been the message in New Jersey, where Gov. Phil Murphy witnessed frontline workers get the Moderna vaccine in Toms River Wednesday morning before heading to Trenton for his afternoon COVID briefing. New hospitalization increases appear to have mostly flattened in the Garden State, too, though Murphy reported a daily death toll above 100 Tuesday for the first time in months.

And it’s been the message in New York City, where Mayor Bill de Blasio has warned people he will enforce the governor’s quarantine orders if people travel and don’t meet the testing requirements. Heavy fines may apply for violations.

“We will enforce that quarantine,” de Blasio said Tuesday. “We’re not doing this for fun. We’re doing this to save lives.”

NY officials are ramping up calls to ban travelers from Great Britain as a mutated COVID-19 strain spreads quickly. Tracie Strahan reports.

At the same time they issue their final holiday warnings, all three officials also are keenly monitoring the developing situation in the U.K., where a viral mutation has emerged that appears to be up to 50 percent more transmissible. It also may more easily infect children, though little is known about the strain at this point.

There is no evidence yet that the new strain is more lethal or causes more severe infections, but if it spreads more easily, it will by default lead to more cases, which will lead to more hospitalizations and some level of increase in deaths as well.

So far, it only has been detected in the U.K., Denmark, the Netherlands and Australia, according to the World Health Organization. While it hasn’t yet been found in the U.S., the CDC says it may already be circulating here undetected. The agency has sequenced genetic coding from less than 0.3 percent of U.S. cases.

Cuomo believes it’s already in New York — if something spreads globally, it ends up here — but he wants to know when it’s confirmed. And where it’s been detected. The governor has ordered hospitals across the state to begin testing for the new variant. Wadsworth Laboraties has sequenced genetic coding from 3,700 New York samples thus far and has not detected the mutation, Cuomo said Tuesday.

Daily Percentage of Positive Tests by New York Region

Gov. Andrew Cuomo breaks the state into 10 regions for testing purposes and tracks positivity rates to identify potential hotspots. Here’s the latest tracking data by region and for the five boroughs. For the latest county-level results statewide, click here

The lab and the Department of Health forged agreements with six hospitals to obtain additional samples and are working with others to acquire more test data.

“If it’s here, we want to know it, we want to isolate it immediately,” the governor said. “This is about time and urgency. And this would be urgent.”

Cuomo is concerned that the new strain, should it continue to spread, could bring about the second wave of coronavirus that many have feared for so long. That’s what happened with the Spanish flu, he says.

Until more information is learned about the new strain, he has called on the federal government to halt travel between the United Kingdom and the United States. More than three dozen countries have barred flights from Britain since the variant prompted a new lockdown there; a number of others imposed restrictions.

At least 40 countries have banned all trade and travel from Britain after a mutated coronavirus strain was discovered in southeast England.

On top of those, 120 countries require inbound U.K. travelers to provide proof of a negative COVID test before departure. Cuomo says the Port Authority doesn’t have legal jurisdiction to require that at New York’s airports, so he asked three major airlines — British Airways, Delta, Virgin Atlantic — that fly between the U.K. and New York daily to voluntarily agree to add New York to the test mandate list.

By early Monday evening, all three had agreed.

According to the CDC, the new strain, dubbed SARS-CoV-2 VUI 202012/01, became prevalent in southeast England in November and accounts for up to 60 percent of recent infections in London. Viruses mutate all the time, the agency notes, so this one could have emerged by chance. Or it “may be emerging because it is better fit to spread in humans,” the CDC said.

That it developed so rapidly from a rare strain in the U.K. to a common one is a concern, the agency added. In a CNN interview Wednesday, CDC Director-designate Rochelle Walensky said travel bans, quarantines and testing-upon-arrival are all viable strategies as far as containing the mutant strain.

“We’ve been saying to the American people we need to limit our mobility period, that’s the best way to control the mutant strain so it doesn’t explode in other places,” Walensky noted.

“We need to promote vaccine distribution and vaccination, we need to get more vaccines into people and promote more testing,” she added. “The mutant strain has made us realize we’re not done with testing.”

Experts and doctors believe existing vaccines should be able to fight infection from new variants because emerging strains are likely to be genetically similar to prior ones. The CEO of BioNTech, which is behind Pfizer’s drug, said Tuesday it is “highly likely that the immune response by this vaccine also can deal with the new virus variant.” Additional testing to confirm that is underway, though data from those experiments likely won’t be available for a number of weeks.

Three major airlines have agreed to test travelers from the U.K. before boarding daily flights to New York. NBC New York’s Andrew Siff reports.

Meanwhile, officials in the tri-state area are forging ahead with plans to inoculate as many frontline healthcare workers and nursing home residents and staff as they can to ensure heightened protection from the strain they know is here.

New York state has administered 50,000 vaccine doses to date, Cuomo said Tuesday, and called on hospitals, medical personnel and nursing homes to continue vaccination efforts through the holidays so as to not lose any time.

New York City is vaccinating at twice the national rate, Mayor de Blasio has said — and the city’s EMTs are expected to get their first doses Wednesday.

Of more than 30,000 vaccine doses administered in the city thus far, officials have received one report of a serious adverse event — a significant allergic reaction in a healthcare worker, the health department said Wednesday. That worker has been treated and is in stable condition, officials said.

“The City Health Department is closely tracking reports of more severe side effects in collaboration with the CDC, and this is the first serious adverse event we have encountered in New York City,” officials said. “We will continue to move forward with the coronavirus vaccine distribution to ensure that health care workers and nursing home staff and residents are protected against COVID-19.”

Statewide, New York has received 630,000 vaccine doses thus far and expects to get another 300,000 next week, Cuomo said Tuesday. The process is also well underway in New Jersey, though anticipated allocations have been reduced.

The Moderna vaccine is being given for the first time at a Hoboken hospital. Katherine Creag reports.

The race to vaccinate the general public couldn’t be more urgent. Deaths have occurred at a faster rate over the last week than at any other time during the pandemic, with 3,350 COVID-related deaths reported in the U.S. on Tuesday.

The country has recorded more than 319,000 deaths since the start of the pandemic and topped more than 18 million cases, according to NBC News. Both tolls are likely much higher than reported. New York alone has confirmed nearly 30,000 COVID deaths since the start of the pandemic, more than 17,000 of those in the city, and likely has thousands more attributable to it in some way.

Nationally, 2020 is the deadliest year in U.S. history. Total deaths are expected to top 3 million for the first time — due mainly to the coronavirus pandemic.

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