NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- The new, more contagious strain of COVID is believed to already be in the United States.
Health officials in the Tri-State Area are screening for the new variant, hoping to contain it before it spreads.
Northwell Health is among the labs across New York State now testing COVID samples for the new mutated strain of the virus found in the U.K., CBS2's Aundrea Cline-Thomas reports.
"We've been evaluating our tests to see if they detect this one as well as they detect the other variants. So far, it looks like they do," Dr. Dwayne Breining, of Northwell Health, said.
British scientists believe the new coronavirus variant is up to 70% more transmissible.
While there have not been any confirmed cases of this new strain in the U.S., Gov. Andrew Cuomo says lessons learned during the spring indicate it's only a matter of time.
"'The virus is in China, the virus is in China.' The virus got on an airplane, and within days, the virus goes global," Cuomo said Tuesday.
While this variant is more contagious, it is not more deadly. Still, the goal is to identify and contain it quickly before it spreads.
"This virus mutates when it's inside humans, so we need to keep it out of humans. And again, so it circles back to the same thing, really being very strict about all of the precautions we normally follow," said Dr. Jay Varma, Mayor Bill de Blasio's senior advisor for public health.
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This comes as COVID cases steadily increase and show no signs of slowing down. Now, New York hospitals have to inform the state early if trends indicate they're weeks away from reaching capacity.
"Meaning they only have 15% capacity left, then they have to tell us high alert, high alert, high alert," Cuomo said.
That alert would lead to more shut downs.
It's all connected to personal behavior, officials say, as the holiday season is underway and the desire to gather puts us even more at risk.
Doctors are saying if your whole group isn't tested, don't even think about getting together with anyone outside your household for Christmas.
There were long waits to get tested for COVID at medical centers throughout the Tri-State Area on Tuesday.
Watch Aundrea Cline-Thomas' report --
Angelica Pimenteo is a medical assistant at Salerno Medical Associates in East Orange, New Jersey.
"A lot of them are traveling. They want to be around their families," Pimenteo told CBS2's Jessica Layton
They've started swabbing patients inside new winterized shipping containers at a record pace.
"This week, over 500," Pimenteo said.
"If you want to have that social function with family, get tested, 100%," Dr. Alexander Salerno said. "Forty-eight hours is the minimum right now for the PCR testing."
This week, labs will be slammed, and a negative test doesn't guarantee you're in the clear. A positive reading may not show for three to five days after exposure.
"Once you get tested, you still have to practice universal precautions," Salerno said.
Rapid tests alone may not be a great indicator because they result in more false negatives than with a PCR test. If you plan to see people you love this holiday, you really should get both.
Aundrea Cline-Thomas and Jessica Layton contributed to this report.
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