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Cuomo fears new strain of coronavirus is already here

ALBANY — Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said Wednesday he fears that a new, “more dangerous” strain of coronavirus that has emerged in the United Kingdom has already arrived in the United States and is spreading unchecked because the federal government isn’t taking the threat seriously enough.

“This is what happened in the spring. It is deja vu. It is the same mistake the federal government made that killed thousands of people,” Cuomo said. “They lost track of the virus. They knew it was in China, and they lost track of it.”

The new variant of the virus was announced recently by the U.K. government, and it’s thought to be 70 percent more easily spread from person to person. Because it spreads more quickly, people who catch this variant may get more of the virus in their system, which in viruses can often cause worse effects.

Cuomo railed against the federal government for not already requiring testing for passengers arriving to the U.S. from the U.K., a step he asked the three airlines that transport passengers to New York to take voluntarily, which they agreed to earlier this week. There are 120 countries requiring testing of passengers arriving from the U.K., Cuomo said, and France has even halted trucking traffic.

“When did common sense leave government? When did government become so bureaucratic and so apathetic and so slow that basic, common sense alludes them? Because that’s what this is,” Cuomo said. “It’s just the greatest failure to do one’s job.”

The statewide positivity rate reported Wednesday was 5.84 percent, with 204,000 tests, 203 hospitalizations and 164 deaths. About 89,000 New Yorkers have received the first shot of the vaccine, the governor said.

Cuomo also announced that the state is working with the Buffalo Bills to allow fans for their upcoming playoff game. It’s not a done deal, but the current proposal would allow 6,700 fans who would be rapid tested before the game, and there would be contact tracing after. Cuomo said the step of rapid testing, which “no other state is doing, no other country is doing,” could be a model for how to resume pre-coronavirus life before there is a critical mass for vaccinations, which may not be until mid to late 2021.

The biggest barrier to allowing fans at sporting events is not the game itself, which can be a controlled environment, Cuomo said, but the pre-game tailgate parties and other events that accompany the events. Bills players were greeted by thousands of fans, many of whom were maskless, at the airport after their win last week, and Cuomo said gatherings such as that are particularly dangerous.

Critics were quick to chime in, saying that it’s unfair that officials would focus on opening up football stadiums when many still unable to visit their loved ones in nursing homes or prisons around the state.

“Truly speechless. I’ve received countless calls from family members desperate to see their loved ones in nursing homes who couldn’t find timely access to rapid tests & [nursing homes] who haven’t been able to get timely results back for employees,” wrote state Sen. Sue Serino, a Dutchess County Republican, on Twitter. “Once again, NY has its priorities backwards.”

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