N.Y. readies thousands of public vaccine distribution sites

Gov. Andrew Cuomo speaks about New York’s available supply of the COVID-19 vaccine during a coronavirus briefing in the state Capitol on Tuesday. Courtesy of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office

ALBANY — Gov. Andrew Cuomo urged federal officials on Tuesday, including U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Robert Redfield, to require every international traveler to test negative for COVID-19 before boarding a plane and arriving in the United States.

The federal government mandated the negative COVID-19 test for all U.K. travelers before flying to the United States on Christmas Day, four days after airlines agreed to test passengers traveling to New York shortly after the more contagious variant was first discovered last month.

“Not a travel ban — just mandatory testing,” the governor said. “This virus has been ahead of us every step of the way and this country has been playing catch-up every step of the way. Government leaders are supposed to be competent. Why do we not have mandatory testing of everyone flying into this country?

“You know there are viral strains in other countries now,” Cuomo added. “How many times do you have to learn the same lesson over and over? What happened to competent leadership in government?”

New York will take action if the federal government does not, Cuomo said.

“The United States must act. If the United States won’t act, then New York state will act,” Cuomo said. “To allow this virus to continue landing at our airports and to make New York a petri dish and the federal government does nothing — I can’t allow that to happen. I wouldn’t be doing my job as governor of the state of New York.”

A Saratoga Springs man in his 60s was the first New Yorker to officially test positive Monday for the 70% more contagious variant of COVID-19 first discovered in the United Kingdom.

The man owns N. Fox Jewelers, at 404 Broadway, Saratoga Springs. Three other store employees tested positive for COVID.

The state Department of Health’s Wadsworth Center in Albany is testing each employee for the more contagious variant through genome testing. The variant is not believed to cause more severe sickness or risk of death.

No other cases of the variant were confirmed as of press time Tuesday afternoon. The more involved genome test takes about 44 hours to complete.

“As soon as we have answers, we will provide that,” DOH Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker said of additional cases Tuesday. “We’re moving very quickly on this. We’re doing aggressive contact tracing of all those in the store. It has been taking place since the moment we discovered (the U.K. variant.)”

The CDC takes two weeks to conduct the necessary genome testing for the mutated disease.

“COVID tests are very quick,” Cuomo said.

DOH officials encourage any person who entered the store since Dec. 18 to get a COVID-19 test.

Anyone exposed to or who works closely with another person likely exposed to the more contagious variant should contact the DOH immediately, the governor said.

“It’s nothing to be ashamed of — it’s a virus, it travels, but we have to know,” he said.

State officials spoke with global experts about the viral strain Tuesday morning.

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