UK Variant found in Saratoga, post-holiday uptick in COVID-19 cases

Governor Cuomo held two media availabilities on Monday, Jan. 4. This morning he conducted a press briefing from the State Capitol and this afternoon he held a press call to make an announcement. Details of both can be found below.

Governor Cuomo Press Call

  • The Governor held a press call this afternoon to announce that the U.K. variant (B.1.1.7) of the virus that causes COVID has been discovered in New York. The Governor was joined on the call by:

    • Melissa DeRosa, Secretary to the Governor;
    • Robert Mujica, Budget Director;
    • Dr. Howard Zucker, NYS Department of Health Commissioner;
    • Elizabeth Garvey, Special Counsel and Senior Advisor to the Governor; and
    • Gareth Rhodes, Deputy Superintendent & Special Counsel at NYS Department of Financial Services.

  • The variant was discovered in a sample from a man in Saratoga County. The man has not traveled recently, indicating the variant is present in the community.

  • The man works at a jewelry store called N. Fox Jewelers in Saratoga Springs. Three other people have tested positive in relation to the store. The Wadsworth Lab is testing their samples to determine if it is the U.K. variant.

  • The Governor advised that anyone who visited the store between December 18th and 24th should be tested.

  • A reporter asked if the variant is resistant to the vaccine and how widespread the State believes the variant to be present in the community. Governor Cuomo said that the variant is not known to be more resistant to the vaccine or more deadly – but it is much more transmittable. He believes the variant is present in the community, but New York has advanced testing protocols so the State was able to find it quickly.

  • When asked if the variant causes different symptoms and if the variant is contributing to increasing cases in the Capital Region, Dr. Zucker said that the variant does not cause different symptoms from the original strain and that the increasing positivity rate locally and across the nation likely reflects the presence of the variant in the community.

  • In response to a question from a reporter about Western New York possibly changing color zones, Gareth Rhodes said that while the region experienced several weeks of progress, the most recent data shows a slight uptick in Erie County.

Governor Cuomo Press Briefing

  • Today’s briefing took place at the State Capitol. The Governor was joined by:

    • Melissa DeRosa, Secretary to the Governor;
    • Robert Mujica, Budget Director;
    • Dr. Jim Malatras, State University of New York (SUNY) Chancellor;
    • Dr. Howard Zucker, NYS Department of Health Commissioner;
    • Elizabeth Garvey, Special Counsel and Senior Advisor to the Governor; and
    • Gareth Rhodes, Deputy Superintendent & Special Counsel at NYS Department of Financial Services.

  • COVID-19 DATA FROM 1/4:

    • Statewide Positivity Rate – 8.34%
    • Statewide Positivity Rate, Excluding Focus Zones – 7.78%
    • Positivity Rate Within Focus Zones – 9.85%
    • Current Hospitalizations – 8,251 (+288)
    • Patients Currently in ICU – 1,357 (+13)
    • Patients Currently Intubated – 843 (+28)
    • Deaths – 170
    • Total NY Pandemic Deaths – 30,648


    • Capital Region
      • 468 hospitalized
      • 9.91% positivity rate
    • Central New York
      • 400 hospitalized
      • 9.30% positivity rate
    • Finger Lakes
      • 930 hospitalized
      • 10.22% positivity rate
    • Long Island
      • 1,506 hospitalized
      • 9.31% positivity rate
    • Mid-Hudson
      • 942 hospitalized
      • 8.20% positivity rate
    • Mohawk Valley
      • 299 hospitalized
      • 10.38% positivity rate
    • New York City
      • 2,884 hospitalized
      • 6.24% positivity rate
    • North Country
      • 82 hospitalized
      • 9.02% positivity rate
    • Southern Tier
      • 209 hospitalized
      • 5.77% positivity rate
    • Western New York
      • 531 hospitalized
      • 8.43% positivity rate


  • POST-CHRISTMAS UPTICK: As expected, New York is experiencing an uptick in infection and hospitalization rates following the holiday season. Governor Cuomo urged New Yorkers to refrain from gathering and continue to follow safety protocols in order to avoid further shutdowns. The Finger Lakes and Mohawk Valley regions continue to sustain the highest infection rates in the State. Governor Cuomo said these communities can change this trajectory by modifying their behavior. However, if the trajectory does not change and hospital bed availability diminishes, the regions will be shut down.


  • HOSPITAL CAPACITY: New York continues to monitor hospital capacity closely, and currently no region has less than 30% capacity. In response to a question from a reporter, the Governor clarified that this metric is the percentage of beds that would be available within seven days to a region’s hospital system if the system uses additional resources to surge capacity under the State’s Surge & Flex plan.


  • VACCINE ADMINISTRATION: The vaccine is being administered under three programs in nursing homes, hospitals, and special efforts:


·       Nursing Homes: The nursing home program is being run by the Federal Government and has been moving slow. There are 611 facilities enrolled in the Federal program, but only 288 have completed the first dose for residents (47%). The State will begin to assist and expedite this program. With State facilitation, 234 facilities will administer the first dose for residents this week (85%). The State will expedite the remaining 15% over the next two weeks.

·       Hospitals: Vaccine administration has lagged in New York’s public hospitals. Governor Cuomo urged public officials in areas with public hospitals to step up and manage vaccinations at these sites. Hospitals statewide have only used around 46% of the total available vaccine allocation. The NYS Department of Health issued a letter yesterday indicating vaccine providers must use their inventory this week or they could receive a fine of up to $100,000. In the future, facilities will need to use their allocations within one week. If they do not, the provider may be subject to a fine and limited future allocations. If a provider is seriously deficient, they can be subject to more serious sanctions or be disqualified from future distributions.

·       In response to a question from a reporter on whether the fines for either not administering enough vaccines or for administering it to an ineligible recipient create competing principles, Governor Cuomo said that some hospitals are better than others at administering the vaccine quickly. The Governor encouraged hospitals that do not have the capacity to administer their allocation to not participate in the program so their allotment can go to another hospital that can administer the immunizations quickly.

·       Special Efforts: The State will establish drive-throughs for public distribution and recruit additional retired personnel to administer vaccines. There will be a focus on establishing sites in communities that do not have access to traditional distribution points, such as pharmacies. Governor Cuomo said that he would like to receive the vaccine, but will not until it is available to his priority group in black and brown communities.


  • VACCINE ELIGIBILITY: All doctors, nurses, and healthcare staff who come in contact with the public are eligible to receive the vaccine starting today. All individuals administering COVID-19 vaccines (including local health department staff), ambulatory care centers staff, home care and hospice workers, and other congregate setting staff and residents are also eligible.

  • VACCINE FRAUD: Governor Cuomo will propose legislation to enact criminal penalties for any entity which falsifies who or what they are to the State, or for any entity that does not follow the guidelines on who is eligible for the vaccine. Under a previously issued Executive Order, a provider who engages in such activity can be fined or lose their license. In response to a question from a reporter, the Governor clarified that this would not apply if a hospital made a mistake or if they were defrauded. It is for a criminal intent, meaning if they knowingly provided a vaccine to someone who was not eligible.

  • SCHOOLS: For counties with a positivity rate above 9%, schools can remain open if the testing data shows that the schools have a lower positivity rate than the surrounding community. It is up to the local school districts to decide whether to remain open. Governor Cuomo added that it is his opinion that schools should remain open if the positivity rate in the school is lower than the community, but emphasized school districts maintain local control over this decision. Previous guidance directed school districts to go to remote learning once the surrounding region hit a 9% positivity rate over a seven-day average.

  • STATE OF THE STATE: The Governor will begin to present his 2021 State of the State Address on Monday, January 11th. In response to a question from a reporter, the Governor said that this year the State of the State will be different from years past because of the challenging position the State is in.