ALBANY — Several more cases of the highly infectious UK variant of COVID-19 were confirmed in New York on Tuesday, four of them in Saratoga County and one in neighboring Warren County.
The first case in the state was confirmed in Saratoga Springs in early January; with these five new cases, and one other in Suffolk County, there are now 22 known cases statewide, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Wednesday.
The United Kingdom strain, also known as the B.1.1.7 variant, is not more dangerous to individual patients — it doesn’t make them sicker or more likely to die, and the vaccine is effective against it.
Instead, it is more dangerous to the community, as it spreads more rapidly than other COVID variants. At a time when so many people already are hospitalized with COVID, a sudden uptick in illness poses a greater threat to the healthcare system.
“The good news — the infection rate is a function of people’s behavior and right now it’s on the decline, meaning New Yorkers are acting responsibly,” Cuomo said in a news release Wednesday.
“The bad news — not only is the federal vaccine supply not keeping up with our ability to administer it, but we are continuing to see new instances of the UK strain, which is much more transmissible.”
Testing for variant strains is complicated and time-consuming, and is performed in sufficiently limited numbers that some cases of UK variant may be going undetected.
In other COVID-related news Wednesday:
- Cuomo said 65 percent of the state’s hospital workers, who got priority status for the COVID vaccine, are now vaccinated. He’d hoped the number would be higher. “I would have liked to see the healthcare workers leading the charge, just as a sign of confidence to New Yorkers — ‘if nurses and doctors take it, it must be safe.’”
- Statewide, 907,870 first doses of the vaccine have been administered and 136,500 second doses, or 84 percent of the 1.19 million doses shipped to the state. The Mohawk Valley has the lowest rate among the state’s 10 regions, with only 74% of its allotment injected into people’s shoulders, and the Capital Region is second-lowest at 78%.
- Cuomo said chaos is inherent in the vaccination system he and his aides have created. It also seems inevitable: The supply from the federal government each week is unpredictable; when it arrives, the state government divides it among 1,200 vaccination sites under simultaneous mandates to reach all geographic areas equally, vaccinate groups such as healthcare workers and senior citizens first, reserve doses for the state’s own mass-vaccination sites, and proactively ensure poor and minority populations have full, equitable access to the potentially life-saving shots.
- The state’s official death toll gained 185 names, with three deaths in Albany County, one in Columbia County, two in Rensselaer County, one in Schenectady County and two in Warren County. As often is the case, because of reporting delays, the counties themselves offered different numbers: Albany County four, Columbia County five, Greene County one, Schenectady County four and Warren County one.
- The seven-day positive test rate stood at 6.3% statewide, 7.7% in the Mohawk Valley (highest in the state) and 7.1% in the Capital Region. For counties within those two regions, positive test rates ranged from 4.9% (Washington County) to 11.0% (Fulton County).
- Statewide, hospital COVID patient census was 9,273, the most since May 4. While the positive test rate has been declining recently, hospitalization and death are lagging indicators — they often result from infections contracted weeks earlier. Capital Region hospitals had 553 COVID-positive inpatients Tuesday, the most ever. Mohawk Valley hospitals had 297 such patients, down from a peak of 329.