NY health officials urge vigilance as COVID variants spread

Dr. Eric Cioe-Peña is sending a stern message to the community after a Nassau County resident from Glen Head was the first person in New York to test positive for the more contagious South African COVID-19 variant.

"This is not the time to get lax," Cioe-Peña, Northwell Health's director of global health, told FOX 5 NY. "The reason why these variants can get created is because of the amount of virus that's circulating the world."

The global health expert said the strain, originally identified in South Africa and first discovered in the U.S. last month is more transmissible than traditional coronavirus.

While there's no data to support it being more deadly like the U.K. strain, Cioe-Peña said that people who've already had coronavirus can become reinfected and it appears to make the vaccine a little less effective.

"There's the recommendation from the CDC about wearing a surgical mask and then a tight-fitting cloth mask above it to prevent particles from leaking out around the mask," he said.

New York state has partnered with a lab to test the positive cases to find out specific variants, officials said. And while we will see more people with different strains in the coming weeks and months, experts said not much has changed when it comes to stopping the spread and fighting the virus.

Nassau County Executive Laura Curran said the individual who tested positive for the variant is expected to make a full recovery. She also doubted this person is the only one from Long Island with the strain.

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"We know that wearing a mask, social distancing and washing hands work for every variant," she said. "The more people vaccinated will protect us from all of the variants."

As of Sunday, Nassau County's positivity rate was just above 4.5%. Suffolk County's rate was just over 5% as of Monday. Suffolk Health Commissioner Dr. Gregson Pigott cautions people not to let their guard down.

"You have people over for dinner, to watch a game, those are the places where we're seeing community spread happening," he said.

More than 3.7 million vaccine doses have been administered in New York State, according to the CDC.