A new and contagious strain of coronavirus, first spotted in the UK, could force New York into another economic stalemate if it spreads uncontrollably and weakens state hospitals, Governor Andrew Cuomo said Thursday.
So far, New York has only reported one Covid-19 case with the new variant B.1.1.7, but there are likely more cases that simply weren’t discovered, Cuomo said. Although the variant is believed to be more transmissible than previous versions of the virus, it doesn’t appear to make patients sick or increase their risk of death, according to health officials.
But a more communicable burden is still of concern because it will infect more people, Cuomo said during a call with reporters. This will lead to more hospitalizations when there is a shortage of health workers, especially nurses, in every New York facility, the Democratic governor said.
Protecting health systems in New York was a priority for the governor, who warned that another economic shutdown might be in sight if the state’s hospitalization rate worsens. According to data from the COVID Tracking Project run by journalists at The Atlantic, more than 8,600 people with Covid-19 are currently hospitalized in New York, the most since early May last year.
“It overtook everything in the UK in three weeks,” said Cuomo. “If it spreads in the UK in New York, if the hospitalization rate rises, the hospital staff is sick, then we have a real problem and we are closed again.”
Three states – Texas, Connecticut and Pennsylvania – announced on Thursday that they had identified their first Covid-19 cases with variant B.1.1.7 and together with New York, California, Florida, Georgia and Colorado confirmed the arrival of the new tribe.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said at least 52 cases of the mutated virus had been confirmed in America as of Thursday. However, the CDC warns that their numbers “do not represent the total number of B.1.1.7 ancestry cases circulating in the United States” and may not coincide with the numbers reported by local officials.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Monday outlined a number of new restrictions across England to keep the country’s health system from becoming overwhelmed. According to Johnson, medical experts believe the mutated strain is 50% to 70% more contagious.
Viruses are constantly mutating and are expected to develop over time as the peaks on their surfaces change, according to the CDC. The British variant “came about with an unusually large number of mutations” which made it easier and faster to spread.
The good news: the changes don’t appear to make existing Covid-19 vaccines any less effective, the agency said. This is partly why Cuomo has pushed hospitals to vaccinate their healthcare workers faster, he said.
Cuomo warned Monday that hospitals could be fined up to $ 100,000 for failing to deliver their Covid-19 vaccine rations by the end of this week. While some hospitals have shown improvements, others are still lagging behind, he said Thursday.
The state has around 2 million healthcare workers and has only received around 900,000 doses of Covid-19 vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna to date, Cuomo said. In the past few weeks, the number of shots New York can deliver has increased to over 50,000 a day in New York, Cuomo said.
The state is aggressively trying to get its first priority group of healthcare workers vaccinated before moving on to other key workers and vulnerable people such as teachers, police officers and those over the age of 75.
“Vaccinate health care workers because if they get sick and don’t show up, and staff shortages are already the limiting factor on hospital capacity, you will reach hospital capacity like California, like California, UK, like Italy,” Cuomo said. “And then you have to close.”