New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced Tuesday that he has ordered state hospitals to begin testing for the new U.K. variant of the novel coronavirus, which could be as much as 70 percent more contagious than prior strains.
Cuomo added that the virus's mutation doesn't change much about safety guidelines for New Yorkers, it "simply makes the job harder" when it comes to containing the spread of COVID-19.
"If it's here, we want to know it, we want to isolate it immediately," he said. "This is about time and urgency. And this would be urgent."
The U.K. variant of the virus has not yet been detected in North America, though scientists in Denmark, Netherlands and Australia have reported it, according to the World Health Organization.
Medical adviser for New York City Dr. Jay Varma agreed with Dr. Anthony Fauci's recent statement that the U.K. variant's arrival is practically imminent.
Varma explained that there is "reasonably strong" evidence that the new variant is more contagious than other strains, but he added that with infection levels spiking across the world, the U.S. could well be cultivating its own new strain of the virus. He noted concerns about another new strain of the virus that's been found in South Africa.
"The only way we can revert to some version of normal is reduce the level of infection," he said. "This virus mutates when it gets inside humans. So we need to keep it out of humans. We're looking carefully for this variant in the U.S. and the emergence of new strains, but we do have the tools to prevent this."
Chief among those tools is avoiding travel during this upcoming holiday season so as not to expose yourself or others to heightened risk of infection by the virus.
Mayor de Blasio urged New Yorkers to postpone travel plans. He added a reminder that anyone coming to New York is obligated by state guidelines to get tested or follow the state's quarantine requirements.
"We will enforce that quarantine," the mayor added. "We're not doing this for fun. We're doing this to save lives."
2020 has been the deadliest year in U.S. history, with more than 3 million deaths for the first time. The country has attributed more than 319,000 deaths to COVID-19.
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