SARATOGA COUNTY — A new temporary test site in Saratoga Spa State Park began collecting specimens Tuesday from people who may have been exposed to the more-contagious U.K. variant of COVID.
A person confirmed infected with the U.K. variant Monday was connected to a jewelry store on Broadway in Saratoga Springs, and three other employees at the store also have tested positive for COVID, though it is not known yet which variant they have.
State and local officials on Tuesday both addressed the situation, which they fear has the potential to rapidly worsen what is already a major public health crisis.
“Hospitals could get overwhelmed,” Saratoga County EMS coordinator Mike McEvoy said during a Facebook live update.
The danger is the total number of infections that could result from an outbreak of the B.1.1.7 variant first seen in the United Kingdom — not the average severity of individual infections, he added.
“It certainly is not a more dangerous virus,” McEvoy said, explaining that current data indicate symptoms are not worse, mortality is not greater and the vaccines are just as effective against it.
The state has set up a temporary testing site at 99 E. West Road. It began operation Tuesday afternoon and will be open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo discussed the situation during a news conference Tuesday, and urged people to get tested if they thought they might have been exposed at N. Fox Jewelers or exposed to someone who might have been exposed.
“Please contact us, there’s nothing to be ashamed of,” he said. “But we have to know. Containment is vitally important here.”
Cuomo compared the battle against COVID to a footrace — rate of virus spread vs. rate of vaccination. The rate of spread was already on the rise and the rate of vaccination has already been criticized as too slow. If the rate of spread gets a sudden boost from the B.1.1.7 variant, the medical system could be overwhelmed.
“The U.K. strain is highly problematic and could be a game changer,” Cuomo said.
The state and county departments of health are collaborating in response to the U.K. variant, with the state providing aggressive contact tracing to attempt to identify potentially infected people.
The complicating factor, potentially, is elapsed time. The exposure window at N. Fox goes back 19 days. Isolating the genome in the B.1.1.7 variant takes 44 hours and is being performed only at the state’s Wadsworth Lab in Albany.
N. Fox — which closed Dec. 23 to Jan. 3 for COVID-related reasons — said on its website Monday that no employee is currently testing positive. Nonetheless, it said it was extending its closure.
The U.K. variant has been detected in three other states and three dozen countries.