New York State health officials braced for the likely arrival of the new Covid-19 variant known as Omicron over the weekend as cases were detected in Africa, Europe, and Asia.
No cases have been found in the United States as of Friday, Nov. 26, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, but Gov. Kathy Hochul warned in a statement that day that New Yorkers should expect the coming of the highly-mutated strain.
“We’ve taken extraordinary action to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and combat this pandemic,” said Hochul in a statement. “However, we continue to see warning signs of spikes this upcoming winter, and while the new Omicron variant has yet to be detected in New York State, it’s coming.”
The governor declared a state of emergency Friday and signed an executive order allowing the Department of Health to restrict non-essential and non-urgent procedures in hospitals to ensure there is enough capacity, beginning on Dec. 3.
DOH’s Wadsworth Center lab in Albany has been monitoring COVID-19 virus samples from across the Empire State for new variants, according to the governor.
The new B.1.1.529 variant — which got its more common name Omicron after the 15th letter of the Greek alphabet — was first reported in South Africa on Nov. 24 and the World Health Organization classified it as a “variant of concern,” due to its high number of mutations.
The new variant is still being studied and it’s not yet clear whether it’s more transmissible or causes more severe illness than the predominant Delta strain, according to a Sunday update by the WHO. However, preliminary evidence suggests there may be an increased risk of reinfection.
Cases and hospitalizations have increased in South Africa, but researchers are trying to figure out whether that was tied to the new variant or due to other reasons.
Several countries, including the United States as of Monday, have rolled out travel restrictions from southern African countries in response.
COVID-19 cases have been on the rise in New York in recent weeks, still driven by Delta, especially in Western New York where the state registered a 10.15% positivity rate on Friday.
The full vaccination rate for all New Yorkers was 68.2% as of Friday, with 77.5% of state residents getting at least one dose, and 90.3% of adults getting at least one shot.