This is our daily update of breaking COVID-19 news for Wednesday, December 30th, 2020. Previous daily updates can be found here, and up-to-date statistics are here.

New York City is in Phase 4 of reopening now, which includes zoos, botanical gardens, museums, and gyms. Citing rising hospitalization rates, Governor Andrew Cuomo suspended indoor dining in NYC starting Monday, December 14th. After beingshut down for several weeks, NYC public schools partially reopened on December 7th for 3K-5th grade students, with students with special needs returning on December 10th. Certain parts of Staten Island remain under a zoned shutdown.

Get answers to questions you may have with our "Ask An Epidemiologist" series, or learn more about NYC COVID-19 testing options with our explainer. Here are some local and state hotlines for more information: NYC: 311; NY State Hotline: 888-364-3065; NJ State Hotline: 800-222-1222.

Here's the latest:

5 p.m.: The highly transmissible UK coronavirus variant has not been found in New York among 4,300 tests for it, according to Governor Andrew Cuomo.

The governor, however, says he believes the strain is already in the state.

"We've been testing for it," Cuomo told reporters Wednesday. "We did over 4,000 tests—350 last week. And this is a lengthy test. It's not a normal covid test. You have to study the actual genomes."

"But, over the 4,000 tests, we have not found the UK strain in the state of New York," the governor said.

The virus variant was found in Colorado this week, just weeks after the UK announced it had found the new variant of the virus was 70% more transmissible than the original virus. In response, Cuomo worked with three airlines to require passengers coming into New York to test negative for the virus before boarding the plane. The CDC later implemented a federal test mandate.

There's no evidence the new strain is more deadly or would make the vaccine ineffective.

But Cuomo fears the slow response from the federal government on the test mandate will result in a repeat of last spring.

"They finally did something a few days ago, but I think it was too late, and I think the new strain is here," the governor said Wednesday.

The state's positivity rate was 8.66% on Wednesday. Hospitalizations rose by 78 to 7,892. ICU patients rose by 26 to 1,250.

Cuomo revealed that about 203,000 people have gotten the first dose of the two-shot vaccine. That's about 10% of the 2 million health care workers and staff and residents at long term care facilities like nursing homes that are in the state's first wave of vaccinations.

The trickle of vaccinations happening across the country worried the governor, who said reopening businesses couldn't wait another year.

"We can't keep the economy closed until the vaccine hits critical mass," Cuomo said. "The nation, over 10 months, hasn't done as many tests as will be required for the vaccination.

"We can't take six months, nine months, 12 months of a close-down economy," he said, adding we need to find a way to reopen "smartly and safely in a controlled circumstance." An experiment for reopening mass gatherings begins early next year at the Buffalo Bills playoff game, with some 6,700 fans expected to gather after testing negative with a rapid coronavirus test. "If you start with the premise that we have to wait until the vaccine hits critical mass, you will be taking about personal bankruptcy for thousands of more families."

UK Approves Vaccine From Oxford And AstraZeneca

The healthcare regulatory agency in the United Kingdom approved a COVID-19 vaccine from Oxford University and AstraZeneca for emergency usage.

The Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine is cheaper and doesn't require ultra-cold storage. Further, the second dose can be given up to 12 weeks after the first dose.

"The authorization recommends two doses administered with an interval of between four and 12 weeks. This regimen was shown in clinical trials to be safe and effective at preventing symptomatic COVID-19, with no severe cases and no hospitalizations more than 14 days after the second dose," a press release from AstraZeneca said.

The Pfizer-BioNTech's second dose is administered three weeks after the first, while the Moderna vaccine's second dose is four weeks later. The country has already started to administer some of these second doses to vaccine recipients.

Additionally, the UK has decided to give as many people a first dose of vaccines, and not reserve 50% for the second dose. In an interview with Sky News, UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock said, "This is important because it means that we can get the first dose into more people more quickly and they can get the protection the first dose gives you. The scientists and the regulators have looked at the data and found that you get what they call 'very effective protection' from the first dose. The second dose is still important—especially for the long-term protection—but it does mean that we will be able to vaccinate more people more quickly than we previously could."

The Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine is also less expensive, priced at $3-5 per dose (Pfizer-BioNTech is about $20 per dose, and Moderna vaccine was quoted be be around $25-37 per dose). Its U.S. approval has also lagged between Pfizer and Moderna after its trial was halted twice due to participants developing an illness.

The U.K. will start administering the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine on January 4th. The United States will determine whether to give emergency approval to the vaccine this month; it has ordered 300 million doses, should the approval go through.

As of Monday, December 28th, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that over 11 million doses have been distributed across the United States and more than 2.1 million have been given. Dr. Anthony Fauci said on Tuesday, "We are below where we want to be."