A combination of rising infections and the new United Kingdom strain of the coronavirus makes one of the worst nightmares of the Covid-19 pandemic possible in New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said today.
Hospitals could fill up and no longer be able to care for patients.
“The worst case scenario is a very real possibility,” Cuomo said during a press conference in Albany. “You overwhelm the hospitals, people die. It’s game over when the hospitals are going to be overwhelmed.”
The economy would have to shut down, he added.
New York’s Covid caseload and hospitalizations were already climbing even before the U.K. strain was confirmed in the state this week.
“You add to that equation the U.K. strain and a higher infection rate? That’s when the train is going to come off the tracks,” Cuomo said. “And we’re seeing it all around us.”
While the U.K. variant does not appear more deadly, experts say it spreads more easily, creating the potential for more cases and stress on the hospital system.
Rapidly increasing cases as a result of the new strain could outstrip the state’s ability to vaccinate people fast enough to tamp down the pandemic, Cuomo said. Doctors and nurses could get sick at levels high enough to reduce hospital capacity even further.
The pressure could cause a repeat of scenes like those from Italy in the spring, when people died on gurneys in hospital hallways, Cuomo said.
“Can we slow the infection rate until vaccinations can kick in? That’s what this is all about,” he said. “If you dramatically increase the infection rate, the race is over.”
New York confirmed its first case of the U.K. variant in a Saratoga Springs jewelry store employee on Monday. So far, that’s the only case confirmed, but the state is still working on testing and contact tracing.
It also now appears the case was tied to U.K. travel, Cuomo said. The infected individual had not traveled there recently, but had contact with someone who had.
Cuomo called again today for the United States to require testing for all incoming international travelers. Not doing so risks the potential spread of dangerous Covid mutations, he said.
Cuomo is sending a letter to federal officials asking Customs and Border Patrol agents to get proof of testing for international travelers at New York airports or to allow Port Authority personnel to get proof.
“The country is playing mutation roulette,” Cuomo said. “We don’t want tens of thousands of people coming through our airports every day from countries around the world who were not tested.
“It’s just that simple and it makes total common sense.”
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