What there is to know
- New Jersey became the last in a growing list of states to detect the omicron variant; five cases have already been confirmed in New York
- At this point, there is no US data to suggest that the variant first identified in South Africa is more deadly or has a higher risk of reinfection than previous strains, but experts say it appears to be more transmissible.
- Unpaired preprinted study by a team of South African researchers suggests that omicron appears to have a ‘substantial ability’ to evade natural immunity acquired from previous COVID-19 infections
New Jersey health officials confirmed the state’s first case of the omicron variant in a fully vaccinated traveler on Friday evening, Governor Phil Murphy said.
The Garden State appears to be the tenth in the country to detect the new variant, and it follows five cases discovered in New York and Long Island. Governors of the tri-state have all said it is only a matter of time before the new strain of the virus is detected in their states.
The traveler, Murphy said, is a fully vaccinated woman from Georgia who recently traveled to South Africa. She has been in isolation since testing positive on November 28, the governor said.
“We’re still learning about the Omicron variant, but we have tools to stop the spread of the virus, the most important of which is to get the shot and get a booster dose. The public should continue to mask themselves, get tested if they have symptoms, keep a physical distance, avoid overcrowded events, stay at home in case of illness and wash their hands frequently, ”the commissioner told State Health, Judy Persichilli.
So far, five cases of this new variant, first identified in South Africa at the end of last month, have been reported in the Empire State, Hochul and New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, making jointly announcing a few hours after the news that a Minnesota vaccinated a man who attended the two-day Anime NYC convention at the Javits Center a few weeks ago had COVID and tests showed it was omicron.
Health officials are still struggling to find out more about the cases, but they include a 67-year-old woman from Long Island who recently visited South Africa, residents of Brooklyn and Queens and another New York City case possibly related to travel. At least one person had received a dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, but officials did not have details of the vaccine status of the other four cases.
Gov. Kathy Hochul said four of the five cases are in the city and all five are in the upstate. NBC New York’s Gilma Avalos reports.
There are almost certainly other local omicron cases that have not yet been detected. New York State only sequences about 3.5% of all positive COVID samples to isolate variants. The famous Wadsworth center lab has the capacity to test up to 100 samples per day, and several other labs, including those in the city, are also stepping up gene sequencing efforts. But with the number of daily cases in New York City surpassing 11,000 a day ago for the first time since late January, the sequencing sample is quite small.
Hochul and other officials are urging the public not to overreact to the latest variant and the governor has said she will not create “panic” by shutting down schools or the economy again. We just don’t have enough information about potential omicron threats or the lack of them, the Democrat said, but reassured New Yorkers that she had prepared for every scenario and would respond. appropriately to emerging data.
“We don’t have stops, we don’t change our protocols. We are continuing where we are, but making sure to work together and encourage people to get tested, get tested often, get vaccinated and that, again is our best defense, ”Hochul said during his briefing alongside the mayor on Thursday.
The federal government has shared similar sentiments in recent days, and New York is working closely with the CDC as it monitors the spread of omicron. De Blasio said people should assume community transmission is well advanced.
He and Hochul, along with the state’s new health boss, urge continued masking and an improved safety protocol for all people, regardless of their immunization status, as well as immunizations and boosters for any person who is not yet fully protected against COVID-19.
So far, preliminary evidence suggests that omicron is at the very least more transmissible than earlier strains, although it is not clear whether it is more transmissible than delta. There is no U.S. data yet to indicate that it causes more serious illness and death or poses a higher risk of breakthrough cases, although the World Health Organization has said it believes it is omicron was associated with an increased risk of re-infection.
A preprinted, non-peer reviewed study by a team of South African researchers suggests that omicron appears to have a “substantial ability” to evade the natural immunity acquired from previous COVID-19 infections, although that it recognizes that the acquisition of vaccination is still open question with regard to the new variant.
For more information on the latest omicron cases in New York City, click here.
The emergence of omicron comes at a time when COVID-related hospitalizations, new deaths and new cases are increasing dramatically in New York City and nationally. Hochul reported more than 11,000 new cases of COVID in New York on Thursday, the highest one-day total since late January, and a total of 3,093 hospitalizations.
That number of hospitalizations rose 62% in the last month alone, and daily deaths, 49 of which were reported on Thursday, are at their highest level in about six months.
Experts say the delta variant, which still accounts for 98% of all positive cases tested in New York City, is likely largely responsible for the latest spikes.
As of Friday, all New York City hospitals with more than 90% bed capacity may have to close elective surgeries if the Hochul administration deems it necessary. The plan is part of a state of emergency issued by Hochul ahead of omicron’s arrival to bolster resources and accelerate federal aid if the outlook for COVID worsens.
Hochul said she was leaving all options on the table for next steps and warned last month that a continued rise in COVID-19 rates could mean New Yorkers will again face more. virus protocols in high risk communities. But she also said she didn’t think a mask warrant would do much because of the non-compliance.
“It’s an option, but there is a reality: the people who won’t get vaccinated are probably the same ones who won’t wear a mask either,” Hochul said.
New York City released an updated mask advisory this week recommending that everyone, including those who are fully vaccinated, wear face covers indoors.
Andrew Siff reports.