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First South African coronavirus variant case confirmed in New York

First South African coronavirus variant case confirmed in New York

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ALBANY — New York coronavirus news Sunday was a study in contrasts, as the test positivity rate reached its lowest level since just before Thanksgiving — while the first patient diagnosed with the South African variant was confirmed.

The first case of the South African coronavirus variant was found in a Nassau County resident. This follows last week, when a Connecticut resident who had been hospitalized in New York City was found to have the variant, which was first discovered in the U.S. in South Carolina less than a month ago. The South African variant has been found in more than 40 countries.

Viruses are constantly changing, leading to the emergence of variants — and those variants must be closely monitored to see if they spread faster or cause more severe disease, scientists say. NBCNews reported Sunday that "the growth of a dangerous variant of the coronavirus has thrown (South Africa's) response to the pandemic into disarray, and raised fears around the world that mutant strains will potentially render the current generation of vaccines ineffective."

The variant linked to the United Kingdom, which is believed to be more contagious, had already been confirmed in New York, first discovered in January in cases linked to a Saratoga Springs jewelry store. As of Saturday there had been more than 130 U.K. variant cases statewide thus far. Two were confirmed in Albany County Saturday.

Coronavirus resources

Detailed map: Check out the Times Union’s New York Coronavirus Case Tracker.

Testing: Local testing sites for COVID-19. Coronavirus testing results for every New York county.

Vaccinations: Track vaccine roll-out in New York. Plus, get answers to commons questions and submit your own here.

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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says "scientists are working to learn more about coronavirus variants to better understand how easily they might be transmitted and the effectiveness of currently authorized vaccines against them."

Meanwhile, the percent of total positive coronavirus cases from Saturday in New York dropped below 3 percent - to 2.99 percent-  for the first time since Nov. 23, before the social activity of Thanksgiving and the winter holidays caused surges in cases.

"We continue to see a reduction in positivity and hospitalizations throughout the state, which is good news, and this progress is allowing us to reopen the valve on our economy even further," Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said in a statement. "But with the discovery of a case of the South African variant in the state, it's more important than ever for New Yorkers to stay vigilant...We are in a race right now — between our ability to vaccinate and these variants which are actively trying to proliferate — and we will only win that race if we stay smart and disciplined."

New York and the Federal Emergency Management Agency are trying to ramp up COVID-19 vaccinations to vulnerable populations — including a mass testing site at Albany's Washington Avenue Armory that will start March 3. Sign-ups for certain zip codes begins online Wednesday. After one week, the state said "appointments will then be made available to all eligible residents of the site's host county, borough or specified target region."

The Capital Region's percent of first and second vaccine doses on hand administered was slightly lower Sunday than the state average — 88 percent to the state's 89 percent.

As COVID-19 deaths topped half a million nationwide Sunday, the American Medical Association, American Nurses Association and the American Hospital Association released a joint statement urging people to get vaccinated when they qualify and when it is available. The groups said in three months, the number of Americans who have died of COVID-19 has doubled.

"With new, more contagious variants of the virus circulating throughout the U.S., now is not the time to let your guard down and scale back on the measures that we know will work to prevent further illness and deaths," they said, urging continued mask wearing and social distancing.

Where do we get our information?

We monitor local, regional and national government updates and verify facts or data before publishing. Sources we rely on include:

Local resources: Daily reports from Albany, Columbia, Greene, Rensselaer, Saratoga, Schenectady, Warren and Washington county health departments.

State resources: The New York State Department of Health and the Department of Health's School COVID Report Card.

National resources: National data on verified testing sites compiled from local health departments, healthcare providers, and cities, counties and states. We also rely on national, state and county data from the Johns Hopkins COVID-19 Case Tracker and The COVID Tracking Project.

Other resources: Vaccine information gathered from government agencies, the companies that produce the vaccines and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

We also turn to doctors, nurses, scientists and other public health experts. We strive for accuracy in our reporting, but sometimes new developments can happen quickly. If we learn information is incorrect, we will update it as soon as possible. You can help by reporting any discrepancies to tuweb@timesunion.com. Learn more about our coronavirus coverage.

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