New York joined a growing number of states on Monday to confirm the presence of a new strain of the coronavirus that's believed to be at least 50 percent more contagious.
A man in his 60s living in upstate New York has tested positive for the U.K. strain of the coronavirus, known as B.1.1.7., Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced on a press call Monday afternoon.
The Saratoga County man had not traveled recently, leading state officials to believe he got the virus through community spread, Cuomo said. "He was symptomatic, but he is on the mend and he's doing better," Cuomo added.
The governor says the man is linked to a jewelry store in Saratoga Springs. He advised anyone who had contact with N. Fox Jewelers at 404 Broadway between Dec. 18-24 to get tested immediately. (The store has been closed since Dec. 24).
State health officials are already aware of at least three other people sick with COVID-19 connected to the store, but they have yet to be confirmed for the new variant, Cuomo said. The test samples from each will be examined for the virus and contract tracing out from the jewelry store is already underway.
At least three other states have recently confirmed the presence of the new virus: Colorado, California and Florida. The first U.S. case of the U.K. virus was detected by health officials in Colorado at the end of December in a man in his 20s who also had no recent travel history.
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The first detected cases of the variant have been found in some of the county's most populated states amid a busy travel holiday travel season. An average of 1.1 million travelers have flown since Christmas, with the highest numbers reported on Sunday, according to the TSA.
“We can be sure based on the photographs that we all saw from TSA check points over the holidays that millions of people traveled among these destinations,” Mercedes Carnethon, vice chair of preventive medicine at Northwestern University, told MSNBC on Friday. “We can be fairly confident this variant is now everywhere.”
The British variant was first detected in September, World Health Organization officials previously said. Since then, cases have skyrocketed across the U.K., resulting in Prime Minister Boris Johnson's decision Monday to impose a national lockdown.
The U.K. variant is one of two new contagious viral strains that have recently emerged, the CDC said in a telebriefing last week. While evidence to date does not indicate either appears to result in more severe infections or higher death rates, the CDC's COVID-19 incident manager, Dr. Henry Walke, did warn that the heightened ease of transmission could translate to many more cases.
The other variant is one the CDC says may have been circulating in South Africa since October and also appears to be more transmissible. That variant has yet to be detected in the United States, but health officials overseas warn it could be "more of a problem" than U.K.'s variant. Vaccines are expected to work on both.
Identifying the variant requires exhaustive genetic sequencing of individual samples. Cuomo had already ordered hospitals across the state to begin testing for it. As of Wednesday, the state and private labs had analyzed genetic sequencing of more than 4,300 specimens since early spring. Three-hundred-fifty were done just last week, Cuomo said.
Experts note that while the new variant makes the virus spread more easily, it does not appear to make it more deadly. The virus mutation does pose a serious threat to hospitalizations, which have been on a continued rise in most states, especially New York.
New York topped 8,000 total hospitalizations (8,251) statewide for the first time since May 7 on Monday, Cuomo said. Over the weekend, it became the fourth state in the U.S. to top a million confirmed cases after smashing its single-day case record Thursday with no corresponding record number of tests conducted.
Thus far, the state has administered about 300,000 initial doses of three-quarters of a million doses distributed, according to the CDC and Cuomo.