Coronavirus Updates: Another New Variant Found In California, Worrying Health Officials – Gothamist


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This is our daily update of breaking COVID-19 news for Monday, January 18th, 2021. Previous daily updates can be found here, and up-to-date statistics are here.

New York City is in Phase 4 of reopening now, which includes zoos, botanical gardens, museums, and gyms. Citing rising hospitalization rates, Governor Andrew Cuomo suspended indoor dining in NYC starting December 14th. After being shut down for several weeks, NYC public schools partially reopened on December 7th for 3K-5th grade students, with students with special needs returning on December 10th. Certain parts of Staten Island remain under a zoned shutdown.

Get answers to questions you may have with our “Ask An Epidemiologist” series, or learn more about NYC COVID-19 testing options with our explainer. Here are some local and state hotlines for more information: NYC: 311; NY State Hotline: 888-364-3065; NJ State Hotline: 800-222-1222.

Here’s the latest:

In an effort to grow the supply of the COVID-19 vaccine in New York, Governor Andrew Cuomo sent a letter to New York-based Pfizer on Monday to buy their vaccine directly from them, sidestepping the federal government.

“Pfizer is not bound by any federal agreement because they did not get engaged [in] the federal government’s Operation Warp Speed, where they gave money to drug companies to expedite the vaccine,” Cuomo said at a briefing Monday. “Pfizer is a New York company. They’re headquartered here.”

The letter, addressed to Pfizer CEO Dr. Albert Bourla, was sent out of frustration with the federal government’s reduced vaccine distribution to New York, which Cuomo said was to be originally sustained at 300,000 per week. The number of vaccines provided to New York by the federal government was 239,625 for the week ending January 17th, the governor said.

At that rate, Cuomo said, it will take more than 7 months to inoculate those currently eligible for the vaccine under the Phase 1a and 1b category. So far, one million New York residents have received the first dose of the vaccine, roughly 5 percent of state residents.

“Seven months is a lifetime. So I’m not really eligible if there’s no supply,” Cuomo said. “The federal government is in charge of supply. They must increase the supply.”

But even with such a shortfall, Cuomo reported that hospitals have still not been doling out the vaccine to health care workers who qualify for the two-dose shot. Those hospitals include New York City Health + Hospitals, he said.

Mayor Bill de Blasio has also called on the federal government to increase the supply of vaccines, warning the city could run out doses in this coming week. Brooklyn Army Terminal, which opened last week as one of the city’s first 24/7 vaccine distribution sites, has been closed since Friday due to the shortage, according to the de Blasio administration.

In an emailed statement, a Pfizer spokesperson said the drugmaker has received the email, but can’t quite commit to Cuomo’s request.

“Before we can sell directly to State governments, [the U.S. Department for Health & Human Services] would need to approve that proposal based on the [emergency use authorization] granted to Pfizer by the FDA,” the statement read.

Another New Variant Found In California, Worrying Health Officials

Another new variant of the coronavirus is showing up more frequently across California, alarming some health officials as the state continues to confront an onslaught of new cases and hospitalizations.

The strain, known as L452R, is distinct from the highly transmissible variant first found in the United Kingdom. Officials said on Sunday that they’ve identified the L452R variant in a dozen counties, and connected it to significant outbreaks in Santa Clara County, the Los Angeles Times reports.

“The fact that this variant was identified in several large outbreaks in our county is a red flag and must be investigated further,” Santa Clara County Health Officer Dr. Sara Cody said in a statement. “This virus continues to mutate and adapt, and we cannot let down our guard.”

The California Health Department said it’s unclear if the new strain is significantly more contagious, or being identified more due to lab techniques. There have been multiple variants of the virus documented throughout the pandemic.

Still, a recent sequencing effort at the University of California, San Francisco found that the variant was present in a quarter of their samples, up from 3.8% last month, according to the NY Times.

On Saturday, Los Angeles also reported its first confirmed case of the variant first found in the U.K., which has been shown to be more contagious, though not more deadly.

In a report published on Friday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned that the U.K. variant could become the predominant strain in the United States by March.

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