At least five Omicron cases found in New York; no shutdowns planned

New York officials announced late Thursday at least five cases of the Omicron variant of COVID-19 had been discovered in the state. That news came just hours after a Minnesota individual who had spent time in New York last month was identified Thursday as the second U.S. resident to come down with variant.

While officials expect more cases will be emerging, Gov. Kathy Hochul told reporters Thursday evening there will not be a knee-jerk reaction from the state.

“This is not cause for major alarm,” she said. “I need to say that because we do not have enough information. We’re not having shutdowns, we’re not changing our protocols.”

New York’s first Omicron case was a 67-year-old female from Suffolk County, Hochul said. The Long Island woman reported mild symptoms – a headache and a cough – at had at least one vaccination shot.

She also had recently traveled to South Africa, where the variant had been discovered. Hochul said the woman tested negative Nov. 25 before returning to the States. Her positive test came back Tuesday after she went to a Northwell Health testing location. Further testing discovered the variant.

At least two of the other cases were people in Queens, one case was found in Brooklyn, and Hochul said a “suspected traveler case” was in the city.

Those individuals’ vaccination status was unknown.

The Minnesota resident was in New York City for AnimeNYC, a conference on the Japanese-style of animation, at the Javits Center from Nov. 19-21.

Appearing with Hochul in the Thursday evening press conference, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio downplayed any fears that the Omicron variant could lead to an outbreak like the one that shut down the city at the start of the health emergency in March 2020.

“It’s a very different world – thank God – than 2020,” he said. “Our hospitals have so much more ability to deal with the challenge than they did then, have much better treatments available, and we have a huge number of people vaccinated. It really is night and day. But I think there’s no lack of urgency. Everyone understands we’re going to throw everything we’ve got at this new challenge.”

Both Hochul and de Blasio urged residents to either get vaccinated or get a booster shot if they’re eligible for one.

Earlier this week, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention revised its recommendations for boosters. Everyone 18 and older who received their last dose of a Moderna or Pfizer vaccine more than six months ago should get a booster, CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said. Those who received the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine should get a booster if it’s been at least two months since receiving their shot.

With Omicron cases now officially in the U.S., the CDC announced Thursday it would shorten the timeline for testing for all international travelers coming into the country. Starting on Monday, any air traveler coming from abroad must show a negative COVID-19 viral test that was taken the day before they board a flight headed to the U.S.

Travelers should also get a test within three to five days of their arrival as well, and any unvaccinated traveler should quarantine for seven days after their arrival.

Thursday was also the second day in office for Dr. Mary Bassett, the new commissioner of the state’s Department of Health, whom Hochul called one of the country’s “premier experts” on public health.

The former Harvard professor and the director of the François-Xavier Bagnoud Center for Health and Human Rights vowed to be upfront and frank about COVID-19 and other health policies.

“In three decades of public health work, I’ve learned the impact of truth-telling,” Bassett said in an earlier press briefing Thursday with the governor. “I can’t think of any better way to put it. I’ll tell the governor what we know, what we don’t know and what our best judgment is, and I’ll tell the public the same thing.”

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