New York health officials have identified five cases of the new omicron variant in Long Island, Queens and Brooklyn, Gov. Kathy Hochul announced in a joint press conference with Mayor Bill de Blasio Thursday evening.
A 67-year-old vaccinated Suffolk County resident tested positive for the variant on Tuesday after traveling back to New York from South Africa and was experiencing mild symptoms, Hochul said. Health officials detected four more cases in New York City, all of which have unknown vaccination statuses. Two live in Queens, one in Brooklyn. Hochul said they had just received word of the fifth case, based somewhere in the city.
“We knew this was coming...We suspect there will be more cases emerging,” she added, emphasizing that people should get vaccinated and take booster shots if they hadn’t been yet. “We’re not defenseless against this variant.”
Mayor Bill de Blasio added there was a high likelihood the virus is spreading locally without connections to international travel.
“We know that we now have cases in New York City. We have to assume that means there’s community spread,” he said. “We have to assume we’re going to see a lot more cases.”
Earlier on Thursday, Minnesota health officials announced a man who had recently traveled to New York City to attend an anime conference at the Javits Center had tested positive for omicron, becoming the second known case in the country. The traveler attended the conference between November 19th through 21st. New York officials recommend that all attendees seek testing.
Researchers in South Africa first reported the omicron variant to the World Health Organization last week. The WHO soon after dubbed it a “variant of concern,” meaning the global health agency suspects omicron either spreads faster, causes more severe disease or thwarts public health defenses such as vaccines. Scientists are racing around the globe to answer these basic questions. They have since traced omicron to more than 30 countries, according to NBC News.
Meanwhile, New York officials urged calm. Hochul and de Blasio urged unvaccinated people to go get their shots and for those eligible to seek boosters to harden their immunity.
At a separate press conference Thursday morning, Hochul said she was not yet considering reinstating statewide restrictions on high-risk activities like indoor dining to mitigate the spread of the virus. Due to a delta variant surge, statewide case rates are currently halfway to last winter’s peak, while daily hospitalizations are a third of the way.
“We have learned an enormous amount over these 20 months. How this transmits, how we can deal with it,” Hochul said. “This is not March 2020.”