CAPITAL REGION — Three additional cases of the U.K.-variant strain of the COVID-19 virus have been identified in New York, two of them connected to the case diagnosed last week in Saratoga Springs, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said on Saturday.
The third new case was found in Nassau County — an indication, according to the governor, that the more-contagious strain is actually widespread.
“The U.K. strain is here, it is real, and the Usain Bolt-like speed through which it spreads is nothing short of frightening,” Cuomo said during a conference call with reporters. “There’s no mystery as to how it got here — it got on a plane and flew here from Europe, just like the original strain did.”
He said the state’s Wadsworth lab in Albany will continue aggressive testing for the new strain, which is estimated to be 70 percent more infectious that the original COVID-19 strain, which has been spreading since March and has killed more than 36,000 New Yorkers.
The state’s first diagnosed case of the new strain was associated with an employee of the N.Fox jewelry store on Broadway in Saratoga Springs. The store was closed Dec. 23 due to COVID infections, but proof it was the U.K. strain didn’t come until last Tuesday.
At the time, the Saratoga Springs case was the first proven case in New York state and only the fourth state in which the variant was found, but more cases have been diagnosed since then.
“This brings the number of U.K. cases in this country to just about 55, and we believe that it is more widespread than that number would suggest,” Cuomo said on Saturday.
Cuomo said the Wadworth lab genetically sequenced the virus from five additional employees at the jewelry store who had tested positive for COVID-19, and two had the new virus strain.
The state Department of Health conducted free COVID-19 testing last week for anyone who may have had an exposure related to the Saratoga case. More than 400 people were tested. Cuomo didn’t say how many people tested positive, but said some were, and are now being screened for the U.K. variant.
Saratoga County reported 208 new confirmed COVID cases on Saturday, the fourth consecutive day the county has reported more than 200 new cases. The extent to which the U.K. variant is causing those numbers to spike is unclear, but county leaders said Friday that addressing COVID needs to be the county’s top priority in 2021.
“As NYSDOH said last week, given the speed of this new strand of the virus and its identification in several states throughout our country, we presumed it would be identified again,” said Dr. Daniel Kuhles, Saratoga County’s health commissioner. “This is another reason why everyone must continue taking precautions to prevent transmission of the virus. The health and safety of county residents remains our top priority, and Public Health Services will continue to work with NYSDOH and the Wadsworth Center to conduct surveillance and contact tracing.”
Across the eight counties the state considers to be in the Capital Region, there were 522 people hospitalized for COVID on Saturday, the governor’s office said. There were 304 people hospitalized in the Mohawk Valley region, which includes Fulton, Montgomery and Schoharie counties, along with the hard-hit Utica-Rome area.
The state reported local counties had twelve more COVID-related deaths, including four in Schenectady County, three each in Albany and Montgomery counties, and one each in Saratoga and Fulton counties. There were 188 deaths reported statewide.