New York hospitals now testing for new COVID-19 variant

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo is coordinating with hospitals in the state to test for the fast-spreading COVID-19 variant found in the U.K.

At a Dec. 22 news conference, the governor said the state laboratory, Wadsworth Center, has agreements in place with Montefiore Medical Center, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, Northwell, University of Rochester Medical Center, Albany Medical Center and Saratoga Hospital to perform the tests. 

A spokesperson for Northwell said the system is selecting samples at random and sending them to Wadsworth to test for the new highly contagious strain. Mr. Cuomo said that the state's health department is making arrangements with other hospitals in the state to facilitate testing for the new strain, and will provide any hospital that has the lab capacity to test for the variant with the right reagents to test for the mutated strain.

Models have shown the COVID-19 variant found in the U.K. spreads 70 percent faster. It has not been detected in the U.S., and the 4,000 tests that Wadsworth has completed so far have come back negative for the variant. Yet Anthony Fauci, MD, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said this week it is possible that the new variant is already in the United States.

"We have no evidence at this point that it is in this state," Mr. Cuomo said. "We do know it has been moving globally. Chances are, if it's been moving globally, it came here. That was the lesson from the spring." 

Mr. Cuomo said if the new variant is identified in New York, he wants to contact trace immediately from that point back and isolate it immediately. 

"This is about time and urgency, and this would be urgent. And that's why we're mobilizing every hospital lab in the state that can perform this test, to perform this test," he said.

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