Five cases of the omicron variant of COVID-19 have been detected in New York state, with four cases in New York and one in Suffolk County, Governor Kathy Hochul said Thursday evening.
The Long Island case concerns a 67-year-old woman who recently returned from South Africa, Hochul said during a joint press briefing with New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio. The woman tested positive on Tuesday.
Two other cases are from Queens and one from Brooklyn. The fifth has only been identified as New York City.
Hochul and de Blasio said they assumed there were more cases in New York City that had not yet been identified. Omicron is originally from South Africa and is classified by the World Health Organization as a ‘variant of concern’.
On Twitter, Hochul appealed for calm.
âBe clear: this is no reason to be alarmed. We knew this variant was coming and we have the tools to stop the spread, âshe wrote. “Get your shot. Get your booster. Wear your mask.”
The Long Island woman’s test was handled by Northwell Health, health system officials said Thursday evening.
After testing positive for COVID-19, Northwell decided to send her sample to Wadsworth State Laboratory to determine if she had the omicron variant since she recently traveled to South Africa, said the Dr Dwayne Breining, Executive Director of Northwell Health Labs.
Hochul said the woman was showing mild symptoms and had received at least one dose of the vaccine, but Breining said she was fully vaccinated and received a booster.
Breining said he was not surprised the variant appeared in this region.
âNot really surprised, New York being such a hub for international travel,â said Breining. “Once we found out he was out of South Africa we would have been surprised not to find him in the area once we started looking for him.”
He said it was too early to determine how damaging the variant could be, as scientists need more time to study it. Preliminary information, however, “actually looks pretty good. The cases we know of have been mild so far,” he said. “So let’s keep our fingers crossed. If this continues to be history, maybe it isn’t so bad.”
But it’s far from certain that will be the case, Breining said.
The fact that the Long Island woman was exhibiting mild symptoms could either mean that the vaccines were effective, or that the variant is not that serious, or a combination of the two, he said. Further study is needed to find out the answer, he added.
Northwell officials said they sent about 10% of their tests to Wadsworth for further testing to determine if any variants are present.
Breining said he assumed there were likely many more omicron cases in circulation, as they were only sending a small amount of their tests to Wadsworth.
“We certainly haven’t heard the end of this. If it is indeed a more transmissible variant, it is likely to spread,” he said.
Meanwhile, the number of new COVID-19 cases on Long Island has climbed to nearly 2,000 in what appears to be the start of a vacation wave. Suffolk County recorded 1,079 new cases in Wednesday’s test results, while Nassau County recorded 890, for a total of 1,969, state data showed. New York City had 2,364 new cases.
Earlier today, Hochul reported that a man from Minnesota who tested positive for the omicron variant of COVID-19 was at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center in Manhattan in November. The man attended the Anime NYC 2021 convention, showcasing Japanese pop culture, which was held November 19-21, Hochul said. He was tested on November 24 in Minnesota after developing symptoms of COVID-19.
Hochul was informed Thursday morning by health officials in Minnesota that the man was infected with the variant. Her symptoms have since abated, health officials said.
The governor urged anyone who was in Javits between November 18 and 22 to get tested. Officials have a list of people who attended the event and will contact them, she said. Most of the participants had to be vaccinated to enter.
The Minnesota Department of Health said the man who tested positive had been vaccinated. He developed mild symptoms on November 22.
To participate in this year’s Anime NYC event, participants aged 12 and over had to prove that they had received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. Those under 12 who were not vaccinated had to show proof of a negative COVID-19 test. Children under 5 could attend without a test result.
Anime NYC said it draws fans from all 50 states and over 15 countries. This year’s event attracted approximately 50,000 people.
Not “defenseless against the variant”
Hochul said earlier Thursday in a press briefing that the state is not “defenseless against this variant, and I want everyone to know they have the confidence that we can handle this.”
Hochul said she does not plan to close schools, stores or other businesses like the state did at the start of the pandemic in March 2020.
“I will not overreact and send this economy out of control again because it has taken so long to get back to where we are,” she said.
The United States recorded its first confirmed case on Wednesday. A vaccinated traveler who returned to California after a trip to South Africa on November 22 developed mild symptoms and tested positive on Monday.
Meanwhile, New York state continues to see an increase in the number of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations, Hochul said, highlighting Long Island and areas upstate. New York City, which unlike the rest of the state requires people to show proof of vaccination for everything from entering restaurants to attending Knicks games, has the best COVID-19 indicators of State.
In state data released Thursday, the seven-day average of positivity in tests for the virus rose to 5.5% in Long Island. It was as low as 2.08% on October 28.
Statewide, hospitalizations of COVID-19 patients increased by 71, to 3,093. A total of 49 people died on Wednesday from causes related to the virus, including two in Suffolk and one in Nassau.
The hundreds of daily COVID-19 cases on Long Island contrasted with a low of 13 in Suffolk on June 1 and 15 in Nassau on May 22.
The peak in Suffolk since the start of the pandemic was 2,194 on January 5 and in Nassau 1,938 on April 6, 2020.
Dr Lance Becker, president of emergency medicine at Northwell Health, said hospital cases of COVID-19 were already gradually increasing before the emergence of the omicron variant – and that it likely won’t be the last variant.
“In the last few weeks before the omicron variant was even described, we had already seen a slight increase. And I wouldn’t go so far as to call it a wave, maybe I would call it a wavelet,” did he declare.
He complained that people weren’t getting vaccinated, wearing masks, or socially distancing.
âI’m so tired of a sick person coming to the emergency room and then his family saying, ‘He didn’t want to get the vaccine. He really felt like it was not the right thing to do for a variety of reasons, âBecker said.
When asked whether the state should enact mask and vaccine warrants in areas with the highest COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations, Hochul said she did not plan to do so.
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What there is to know
The Minnesota resident who tested positive for the omicron COVID-19 variant attended the Anime NYC event at the Javits Center in Manhattan in November.
Governor Kathy Hochul urged anyone inside the Javits Center November 18-22 or attended the event to get tested for COVID-19.
Hochul said she had no plan to enact mask or vaccine warrants in areas of the state where COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations are on the rise.