New York is still reeling from a surge of COVID-19 Delta variant cases, and now the Omicron variant has also been detected. Although health officials are doing their best to contact trace people to hamper transmission, it’s clear that community spread of the Omicron variant is underway. Incidence of the variant, now present in over 30 states across the U.S., is expected to rise exponentially in the coming weeks.
Prompted by the growing threat, healthcare workers and government officials are taking urgent action in an effort to protect the residents of New York City and beyond against this latest variant. There are still a lot of unknowns as the data continues to trickle in, but here’s what we know about the spread of Omicron in NYC so far:
Government officials believe that there needs to be a “pre-emptive strike” against the surging cases in New York City. The expectation of Omicron cases spiking has led to the government mandating private employers to require their employees to be vaccinated, with no way to opt out.
Healthcare workers are under more pressure to be vaccinated, with the Supreme Court refusing to block the mandate to have all healthcare workers vaccinated against the coronavirus. This decision came despite objections to mandatory vaccination.
Cases in NY, NJ appearing at 4 times national average
According to the head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), genomic sequencing is detecting cases of Omicron in New York and New Jersey at an alarming rate of approximately 13% versus 3% nationally.
Mask mandates in place
New York’s mask mandate returned on December 13 amid the rise in Omicron cases. The strict obligation applies to all businesses that do not have vaccination requirements in place. Businesses that don’t abide by the said mandate can be fined up to $1,000.
Governor of New York Kathy Hochul said: “As Governor, my two top priorities are to protect the health of New Yorkers and to protect the health of our economy. The temporary measures I am taking today will help accomplish this through the holiday season. We shouldn’t have reached the point where we are confronted with a winter surge, especially with the vaccine at our disposal, and I share many New Yorkers’ frustration that we are not past this pandemic yet,”
She added: “I want to thank the more than 80 percent of adult New Yorkers who have done the right thing to get fully vaccinated. If others will follow suit, these measures will no longer be necessary.”
However, there has been some dissent from Republican officials. As reported by NBC New York: “Dutchess County Executive Marcus Molinaro has said he won’t enforce the mandating, citing what he describes as a lack of supporting data. Incoming Nassau County Executive Bruce Blakeman has indicated he’s not on board either.” Another Republican county executive, MaryEllen Odell in Putnam, also said she does not intend to enforce the mandate or levy fines on businesses that don’t comply.
Boosters ‘help against the Omicron variant’
Preliminary studies from Pfizer-BioNTech confirm that the Omicron variant evades some of the protection that antibodies and the vaccine provide. A booster shot, according to the vaccine maker, can potentially enhance neutralizing antibodies as much as 25-fold.
These findings have led to government officials encouraging vaccinated individuals to urgently get their booster shots. They have also redoubled efforts to increase the number of booster shots available to the public.
Too soon to let guard down
Early indications from those affected by the Omicron variant suggest more moderate symptoms than variants such as Delta, but scientists and healthcare workers alike are urging people not to let their guard down. The Omicron variant is still too new for us to know for sure what its long-term effects will be. As CDC head Dr Rochelle Walensky has said, even if Omicron does prove to be less severe, “you still have a lot of people who are getting sick.” Vulnerable people could also experience severe COVID-related illness or even death.
It’s also still unclear how many of the COVID-19 cases that New York is currently detecting can be linked to the new variant because the Delta variant, for now, remains the primary driver of the high cases in the state. There’s no indication at this point as to whether or not Omicron will outlive Delta, so people are urged to continue following health protocols, get vaccinated, get booster shots, and get tested if symptoms emerge.
Symptoms of Omicron
Known, distinct symptoms of the Omicron variant of COVID-19 include the following:
- A scratchy throat (as opposed to a sore throat)
- A dry cough
- Extreme tiredness
- Mild muscle aches
- Night sweats
Despite limited information about the Omicron variant, people should continue to be guarded against the virus. Even if, at this point, Omicron is reported to generally cause less severe symptoms than some other variants, there is still no knowing what long-term health effects the variant might cause.
Continuing to follow health protocols such as wearing a mask and observing social distancing is highly advised. If you experience any symptoms or have reason to believe that you have been exposed, immediately get tested for the virus to protect yourself and others.