TOMPKINS COUNTY, N.Y.—Gov. Andrew Cuomo held a press briefing on Monday, Dec. 21 in another installment of his tri-weekly COVID-19 updates, this time addressing recent reports of a new strain of the coronavirus that has emerged in the United Kingdom over the last few days and new expansions to the COVID-19 vaccination priority list.

The UK government implemented another round of lockdowns in the country after discovering a version of the virus that is, according to their scientists, 70 percent more transmissible between people than previous strains of COVID-19. In reaction, Cuomo spent the weekend calling for action from the United States’ federal government, potentially in the form of either a travel ban (as other countries have implemented on the UK) or a requirement that passengers coming from the UK into the country be tested before arriving.

Cuomo is somewhat handcuffed by the limits of his office in terms of monitoring international travel, which would fall under federal jurisdiction.

“I think the United States should do what other countries have done, which is halt the travel,” Cuomo said. “This is a mutated virus, that they think transmits much faster. Why are you doing nothing?”

Regardless, he decided to reach out to the airlines individually to ask if they would require testing for passengers entering the state, which would at least be more closely aligned with New York’s current travel guidelines for out-of-state visitors. The governor had contact with all three airlines with service to New York from the United Kingdom (British Airways, Virgin Atlantic and Delta) about requiring tests for their passengers who are coming in to New York. British Airways agreed to the new rule voluntarily, while Cuomo said Virgin Atlantic and Delta had not yet. More updates are likely to come later this week at Cuomo’s Wednesday briefing.

The other major topic addressed was an expansion of the vaccination priority list, which previously held only frontline healthcare workers and nursing home residents and workers. Nursing home workers began to receive shots this week, reportedly, though not all hospitals have received shipments of their vaccination doses. Now, the list has expanded to include the following people:

Also, Cuomo announced that Santa Claus is exempt from the normal 14 day quarantine rules for out-of-state travelers, but not from the mask mandate.

Matt Butler

Matt Butler is the Education & Public Health Reporter at the Ithaca Voice. He can be reached by email at mbutler@ithacavoice.com