One of the COVID-19 variants can infect children more easily, posing a new risk to kids, a nationally respected epidemiologist warned on Sunday.

The variant called B.1.1.7, first detected in the U.K., represents “a brand-new ballgame” in the fight against COVID-19, Dr. Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

In New York City, the B.1.1.7 variety accounts for about a quarter of all COVID-19 cases, according to the Health Department, but no major spike in variants has been seen among children.

“Right here in Minnesota, we’re now seeing the other aspect of this B.1.1.7 variant that hasn’t been talked much about, and that is the fact that it infects kids very readily,” Osterholm said.

“These kids now are really major challenges in terms of how they transmit,” he added, noting numerous Minnesota schools have seen students test positive for the strain.

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On “Fox News Sunday,” he added: “We are the only country in the world right now experiencing this increasing number of cases due to this variant and at the same time, opening up, not closing down.

“The two basically are going to collide, and we are going to see substantially increased number of cases.”

Statewide, the outbreak maintained its deadly pace over the weekend, with 59 New Yorkers dying on Saturday, according to Gov. Cuomo’s office.

That put the state’s official death toll at 40,756, though the Health Department in Albany has only been counting people whose death certificates include positive COVID-19 test results.

In New York City, where the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene includes “probable” COVID-19 deaths along with “confirmed” ones, the official death toll stood at 31,449 as of Sunday.

COVID-19 variants have been spreading while authorities race to distribute vaccines. In spite of a rocky initial state rollout with the governor and Mayor de Blasio feuding over eligibility criteria, vaccination efforts appeared to be going ahead full-steam.

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More than 1.4 million doses were administered throughout the state over the past week, meaning a third of the population has gotten at least one dose, according to Cuomo.

“We will continue to work with communities across the state to make sure the vaccine is accessible to every New Yorker,” said the governor, who is reeling from a series of scandals.

Last week, the head of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said she felt a sense of “impending doom” as COVID-19 numbers climbed in parts of the country.

“Right now, I’m scared,” Dr. Rochelle Walensky said. “I’m asking you to hold on just a little bit longer … so all those people will still be here when the pandemic ends.”

Navigating the pandemic
(Jennifer Luxton / The Seattle Times)

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