Governor says all international travelers should be tested for COVID-19

With a new coronavirus variant first discovered in the United Kingdom now detected in a patient in Saratoga, Gov. Andrew Cuomo is pushing for all international travelers arriving in New York to be tested for the virus.

“This country is playing mutation roulette,” the governor said during a press briefing Wednesday morning, by not requiring international travelers to be tested before entry.

In addition to the recently detected U.K. mutation, health officials are monitoring variants that have emerged in South Africa and Nigeria.

“The U.K. strain greatly complicates this entire equation,” Mr. Cuomo said, of the state’s attempts to keep Covid-19 cases at bay.

Scientists say the U.K. strain is more contagious than other strains, according to the governor. The new strain is not necessarily deadlier or the cause of more severe symptoms. But it can lead to greater transmission, higher infection rates and more hospitalizations.

The statewide daily positivity rate reported Wednesday stands at 8.41% and the governor reported an additional 161 fatalities statewide.

An additional 75 New Yorkers were hospitalized for the virus, bringing the statewide total to 8,665. Over 1,400 patients are in the ICU, an increase of 16, and the governor reported 877 intubations, an increase of 26 people.

Mr. Cuomo said the continued increase stems from holiday celebrations, which could threaten to overwhelm hospital capacity and lead to another economic shutdown. “It’s the holiday Covid hangover,” he said. “It’s game over when the hospitals are overwhelmed.”

On Long Island, the positivity rate reported Wednesday is 9.52% and there are 1,614 patients hospitalized.

Though Mr. Cuomo did not call for a travel ban, he said travelers should be tested before they fly. He criticized a slow federal response, citing that over a hundred other countries have required international travelers to test before entering.

Mr. Cuomo said he sent a letter to Health and Human Services secretary Alex Azar and Centers for Disease Control & Prevention director Dr. Robert Redfield urging them to require tests for international travelers.

“We don’t want tens of thousands of people coming through our airports every day from countries around the world who were not tested,” Mr. Cuomo said, noting that the Saratoga case appears to be directly related to travel to the U.K. “Let us protect ourselves.”

The governor Wednesday also reiterated calls for additional vaccine doses to be sent to New York.

The state is currently receiving approximately 300,000 doses of the vaccines each week—a total of 950,000 so far—which Mr. Cuomo amounts to less than half the number required to cover all health care workers, nursing home staff and residents targeted in the first phase of vaccine distribution.

The next group to be vaccinated under the state’s plan include 5 million essential workers in education, public safety, transit and those over the age of 75, the governor said, noting that the distribution effort would include a network of pharmacies, doctor’s offices, hospitals, health centers and drive-thrus.

“We will have thousands of points of distribution, but we need the supply,” he said.

As the supply increases, more New Yorkers are expected to become eligible to receive the vaccine. Earlier this week, the state health department unveiled an online portal for New Yorkers to track their vaccine eligibility and sign up for updates on the vaccines availability. The portal is accessible at