‘If it’s here, we want to know it’: Cuomo presses for tests to stop UK COVID-19 variant in New York

Mayor Bill de Blasio
REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz/File Photo

There’s no concrete evidence yet that the mutated variant of COVID-19 that recently emerged in the United Kingdom has arrived on New York’s shores — but Governor Andrew Cuomo isn’t convinced that the super-charged strain is not already here.

The UK variant of COVID-19 — which British Prime Minister Boris Johnson described as being 70 times more contagious than any other mutation of the deadly virus — has been fresh on Cuomo’s mind for the past several days. On Sunday, he blasted the federal government for continuing to permit flights from the United Kingdom into the United States without any kind of test. Monday, he said the state procured agreements from three airline carriers to test all passengers bound from the UK to New York state before boarding.

During a Tuesday conference call with reporters, Cuomo said more of the same, and appealed to the federal government to mandate tests for all passengers heading from the UK and other countries to the states.

This, he said, would learn from a lesson painfully experienced during the first wave in the spring: that the highly-contagious version of COVID-19, which had caused mass death and shutdown in New York, emanated from Europe, not China — and likely had arrived in New York far earlier than detected through international flights.

“The U.S. should say the same thing that New York said. People need to be tested before they come from the U.K.,” Cuomo told reporters. “There should be mandatory testing of anyone coming from any country flying into the U.S. I’m asked, ‘Why doesn’t New York do it?’ I can’t, because we don’t control the borders. The federal government does that with Customs and Border Protection.”

The governor also directed hospitals across New York state to test for the UK variant of COVID-19, a with numerous medical providers — including Montefiore and Northwell Health — set to provide samples to the state health lab in Wadsworth to accomplish the goal of detecting if, and where, the mutated virus might be.

Cuomo cited previous comments from Dr. Anthony Fauci, who said in a PBS News Hour interview on Monday that the UK variant is more than likely already in the United States.

“We want to test for the variant. If it’s here, we want to know it, we want to isolate it immediately,” the governor said Tuesday.

A quick-moving version of COVID-19 threatens to further compound the steady increase in virus cases in New York this fall, amid the second wave. As of Monday, 6,661 people statewide were hospitalized with COVID-19, and the statewide 7-day positivity rate reached 5.8%.

Hospitals across the state are dealing with increased capacity but are not anywhere close to a crisis level, Cuomo reiterated. Admissions for COVID-19, he indicated, are “not necessarily higher” — but discharges are down. The governor observed that’s likely a statistical anomaly, as the hospital length-of-stay, intubation and death rates remain far lower than they were during the first wave.

“But one mutation can be deadly, and that’s what everyone is worried about,” Cuomo said. 

With continued concerns about the UK variant, and the general rise in COVID-19, the governor again encouraged New Yorkers to adopt a mantra: “Celebrate smart, stop shutdowns.” 

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