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US confirms COVID-19 variant infections in 4 states as vaccine rollout lags

Xinhua | Updated: 2021-01-06 09:28

People wait in their cars as workers for the Florida Department of Health in Broward direct cars at the drive-thru vaccination site at Vista View Park on Jan 4, 2021 in Davie, Florida. [Photo/Agencies]

WASHINGTON - The United States has confirmed infections of the COVID-19 variant in four states, as the vaccine rollout nationwide lags behind schedule.

New York State reported on Monday its first case of the new, more contagious variant of the coronavirus that was initially discovered in the United Kingdom.

The case was identified in a 60-year-old man from Saratoga County who had no travel history, according to New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo.

New York is the fourth state in the country that has confirmed infection of the new strain, which has also been found in California, Florida and Colorado.

The variant is thought to be more transmissible but does not appear to make people more ill or increase the risk of death from COVID-19, experts have said.

While the variant does not appear to cause more severe disease in people who are infected and current vaccines should still work against it, it could lead to more hospitalizations as a result of an increase in cases, said the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) last week.

California has confirmed six cases of the variant, all in the southern part of the state. One person in San Diego County has been hospitalized, said Governor Gavin Newsom on Monday.

He said state health officials are carrying out contact tracing efforts.

The CDC has implemented a new order in late December which requires air passengers arriving in the United States from the United Kingdom to test negative, no more than 72 hours before departure.

More new strains of the coronavirus are likely to make their way to the United States, said Michael Osterholm, member of US President-elect Joe Biden's COVID-19 advisory board, on Tuesday.

"And it's the first of what will likely be a number of these strains that are emerging as we're at this point in the pandemic," he added.

In the meantime, health experts and officials have blamed states for slow vaccine rollout. The country planned to inject 20 million Americans by the end of 2020. However, only about 4.56 million had received shots as of Jan 4, according to the CDC.

Moncef Slaoui, the head of Operation Warp Speed, said that one way to speed up immunizations against COVID-19 was to give two half-volume doses of the Moderna vaccine to some individuals.

However, the US Food and Drug Administration warned on Monday that people need both doses of vaccine and changes in vaccine administration would "run a significant risk of placing public health at risk".

The United States has recorded over 20.9 million cases with over 355,300 related deaths as of Tuesday afternoon, according to the real-time count kept by Johns Hopkins University.

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