What to Know
- Despite all the talk about a new NY shutdown over the last few weeks, Gov. Andrew Cuomo continues to say harsh new restrictions aren’t inevitable; NYers just have to make it through one more stretch
- These upcoming end-of-year holidays will be the longest socialization stretch, he says; if New York can avoid a significant spike related to travel or gatherings, it’s just a “sprint, us versus the vaccine”
- Meanwhile, a new COVID variant identified in the U.K. has officials concerned; while there’s no evidence it’s more deadly, data shows it’s 50% more transmissible and may more easily infect children
Gov. Andrew Cuomo has granted Santa Claus permission to travel around New York amid the pandemic this Christmas but no one else is off the hook — as he once again cautioned against holiday travels to avoid a surge in COVID-19 cases.
Thanksgiving was the state’s first test, Cuomo said Monday, acknowledging that one had some hiccups but wasn’t as much of a failure locally as it was in other states. This upcoming longer, end-of-year holiday stretch may be the final test in avoiding a PAUSE-like shutdown similar to the one he imposed last spring.
Getting through this last part of the holiday season means no more holiday-related socialization between New York and wider-scale vaccine distribution, he says. New Yorkers did, of course, see a Thanksgiving-related spike, but it wasn’t as profound as the ones in other states. Cuomo says that’s due to travel.
NBC New York’s Ray Villeda reports.
“It looks like there were more gatherings, more air travel in other parts of the country, and where there was more air travel and more gatherings, there was more of a spike in terms of Thanksgiving, which suggests all the admonitions about, ‘Celebrate but celebrate safely, if you don’t have to travel, don’t travel,’ actually had an effect here in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut,” Cuomo said.
“Christmas is a longer holiday season, right? Thanksgiving, a day, two days. Christmas, Kwanzaa, Hanukkah season, New Year’s Eve season, this is a long stretch,” he added. “But, if we stay smart, a spike is not inevitable. We get through the holiday season, then it’s just a sprint, us versus the vaccine.”
Three major airlines have agreed to test travelers from the U.K. before boarding daily flights to New York. NBC New York’s Andrew Siff reports.
Cuomo’s latest holiday warnings come as the U.K. faces a surge of a new COVID-19 variant that appears to be significantly more transmissible. It prompted Boris Johnson to lock down his country again and a barrage of nations to implement new travel restrictions on England just days before the end-of-year holidays.
Both Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio would like to see federal action to that end in New York. Barring that, the governor has gotten three major airlines that fly thousands of passengers between the U.K. and New York daily to agree to ensure travelers provide a negative COVID test before departing for the Empire State.
Cuomo made the ask of British Airways, Delta and Virgin Atlantic. British Airways agreed first, pledging to launch the new testing requirement Tuesday. The other two airlines signed up shortly after Cuomo’s Monday news conference in which he lauded British Airways for helping and said he hoped the other two would as well.
Virgin Atlantic said in a statement that the new testing procedure for New York-bound flights would begin on Christmas Eve. The airline said it would require all passengers to present a negative LAMP or PCR test taken up to 72 hours before departure. Tests taken on-site at the airport would also qualify.
“The point is bigger than just New York. We have been worried about a mutation of the virus, that’s what everybody’s been worried about,” Cuomo said later Monday on CNN. “The ‘second wave’ was a mutated virus which was creating a second, more diabolical viral infection.”
U.S. air travel certainly has seen a holiday uptick in recent weeks. TSA data shows the agency screened more than a million flyers each on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. That’s the first time since March with three straight days of million-plus screenings. More than a million people were screened three times in the week leading up to Thanksgiving, but not on consecutive days, TSA data shows.
To date, the World Health Organization says the U.K. variant has been identified in Denmark, the Netherlands and Australia. It hasn’t yet been detected in New York, according to New York Health Commissioner Howard Zucker. That said, New Yorkers know all too well that just because there’s no official confirmation yet, that doesn’t mean it’s not here — and spreading rampantly.
Cuomo says he “intuitively” believes that variant is in New York already. It’s what happened in the spring and it’s almost a given, considering the volume of people who live in the city and travel through it each day for a multitude of reasons.
Dr. Jay Varma, the Chief Medical Adviser for New York City, agrees. He also said Monday he thinks there’s little anyone could do to keep it out.
“Restricting travel can be a very important way to slow the growth of new infections,” Varma said. “I think it’s unlikely we could ever stop this strain from entering the U.S.”
Daily Percentage of Positive Tests by New York Region
Gov. Andrew Cuomo breaks the state into 10 regions for testing purposes and tracks positivity rates to identify potential hotspots. Here’s the latest tracking data by region and for the five boroughs. For the latest county-level results statewide, click here
Little is known about the new U.K. strain. Scientists in the U.K have said that the new strain is 50 percent more contagious, and there are signs that it more easily may infect children, although it is still very early on in the observation process. Experts have stressed that even if the new strain is not more lethal, it is inevitable that more infections will lead to more hospitalizations and deaths.
WHO also said Monday the coronavirus is mutating “at a much slower rate” than seasonal influenza, which mutates so frequently that scientists regularly have to develop new vaccines to effectively inoculate people each year.
According to at least one doctor, COVID vaccines are expected to protect against new strains of COVID-19. Existing vaccines will be able to fight infection from new variants because emerging strains are likely to be genetically similar to prior ones, Vin Gupta of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation told CNBC.