ALBANY — New York’s first known case of the more highly contagious variant of COVID-19 has been discovered in Saratoga County.
The state’s Wadsworth Lab in Albany confirmed the infection in a sample submitted by Saratoga Hospital.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo said the first patient was a man in his 60s associated with the N. Fox Jewelers store on Broadway in Saratoga Springs. Three others at the store also tested positive for COVID, but it had not yet been determined Monday afternoon whether they also have the new variant.
The B.1.1.7 variant of COVID-19 is associated with the United Kingdom and has been the subject of containment efforts, but it already has been detected in California, Colorado, Florida and 33 foreign countries.
It is not believed to cause more-severe symptoms, nor is it thought to be less responsive to the vaccines. The problem with B.1.1.7 is that it is more easily transmitted from one person to another and is spreading at a time when the health system in many states is becoming overwhelmed with a surge of COVID-infected people.
Cuomo said the person infected in Saratoga County has no known history of travel, suggesting community spread — that the infection came from someone else within the county.
He urged anyone who had been in the N. Fox store from Dec. 18 through 24 to be tested for COVID.
The jewelry shop said in a Dec. 27 Facebook post that it would remain closed through Jan. 3 due to staffing issues related to COVID.
Also Monday, Cuomo took a harder line on COVID vaccination, saying hospitals entrusted with the vital task are on the whole doing a poor job, having injected just 46 percent of the vaccine doses supplied to them.
He said if they don’t pick up the pace, and inject the vaccine allowed to them, they’ll face significant fines and the state will find other hospitals to do the vaccination.
“This is a very serious public health issue,” he said during a press conference.
He displayed a chart showing the top 10 and bottom 10 hospitals ranked by percentage of vaccine administered. The bottom-10 ranged as low as 15 percent and the top 10 ranged as high as 99 percent. Ellis Hospital in Schenectady was on the high list, No. 7 at 66 percent.
Ellis told The Gazette on Monday that it had vaccinated more than 3,000 people through Sunday and did 200 more on Monday. These included more than a third of its roughly 3,000 employees as well as employees of five other hospitals, EMS personnel and nursing home employees.
On Sunday, it began injecting the first people it vaccinated back in mid-December with the booster shot that gives the vaccine full effectiveness.
Ellis said the setup it is using was designed for rapid vaccination, with a capacity of up to 60 per hour. It’s a walk-in clinic, no appointment needed. This can result in a waiting line — it was particularly long Monday at times — but it also gives flexibility to the people who are getting the shots. Additionally, there’s a QR code scan that allows them to fill out the registration on a smart device while they’re waiting.
A reporter asked Cuomo on Monday whether the strict guidelines on who can get vaccinated might be limiting hospitals’ ability to achieve greater vaccination.
Cuomo said it apparently was not, if one hospital could administer up to 99 percent of its vaccine.
“There’s always reasons why it hasn’t gotten done. Especially in government,” the governor added. “This is a matter of life and death. So yes, I’m impatient.”
Also Monday, Cuomo said the state will be bolstering the federal effort to vaccinate nursing home residents. He said 288 of the 611 nursing homes in New York have completed first-round vaccination of their residents through the federal program and the state will vaccinate residents of 234 more this week.
The daily state statistics provided a snapshot of the pandemic:
- Statewide, 170 New Yorkers died of COVID-19 on Sunday, including one in Schenectady County. It was a grim holiday weekend in the Capital Region, with Albany, Columbia, Greene, Rensselaer, Saratoga and Schenectady counties reporting a combined 18 deaths and the state reporting eight in Montgomery County and two in Fulton County. The toll reported daily is often a preliminary number that includes deaths from other 24-hour periods, and there can be significant differences between state and county reports on county-level statistics for that reason.
- Statewide, 8,251 people were hospitalized with COVID infections. The total was 468 patients in Capital Region hospitals and 299 in Mohawk Valley hospitals. The Capital Region has the fewest ICU beds available among the state’s 10 regions and the Mohawk Valley second-lowest. The Mohawk Valley was highest among the regions for new hospitalizations per-capita.
- The Mohawk Valley now has the highest seven-day average positive test rate among the regions at 10.4% and the Capital Region the third-highest at 9.9%.
- The positive test rate in local counties was Albany, 10.3%; Fulton, 7.2%; Montgomery, 11.8%; Rensselaer 10.8%; Saratoga, 10.8%, Schenectady, 10.7%; and Schoharie, 11.7%.
- Cuomo said school districts in counties with a positive test rate higher than 9.0% would have to start doing testing in schools. He left it up to the school districts themselves to decide whether to close their buildings and go to remote learning, but said in his opinion, if the schoolchildren test positive at a lower rate than the general population in that county, the schools should stay open, as they’re possibly being exposed to fewer infected people in school than out.
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