Speaking from Albany on Christmas Eve, Gov. Kathy Hochul urged New Yorkers to use resources such as vaccines, testing and masks to keep loved ones safe this holiday season. Credit: NY Governor's Office

New York State again broke its record for new daily cases of COVID-19, jumping from nearly 39,000 to more than 44,000 in a single day, Gov. Kathy Hochul said Friday, as new testing sites were announced and airlines canceled some flights amid the omicron variant surge.

Long Island also smashed its record for daily cases, rising from 6,950 to 8,216 in a single day. As recently as this past summer, the total was below 100. Nassau County logged 4,457 new cases in test results Thursday, while Suffolk had 3,759.

"This is a very, very contagious variant," Hochul said Friday in a livestreamed Christmas Eve address from Albany.

The number of new cases statewide has more than tripled in a week and a half. On Dec. 14, the state registered 12,944 new daily cases.

Hochul, addressing a statewide shortage of testing sites, said 13 new ones would open next week. Shortly after her press briefing on Friday, her office emailed a list of the sites, though they do not appear to be the types of mass testing sites that previously operated at Jones Beach and Stony Brook University.

Two of those sites will open on Long Island next week: at IBEW Local 25 in Hauppauge, and at Kennedy Memorial Park in Hempstead. Testing will begin on Wednesday, but Long Islanders can start signing up Monday.

When fully operational, the Hauppauge site will be open Monday through Saturday from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. The Hempstead site will be open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. and Saturday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Gov. Kathy Hochul updates New Yorkers on the COVID-19 spread...

Gov. Kathy Hochul updates New Yorkers on the COVID-19 spread in New York, particularly the omicron variant. Credit: TNS/Kevin P. Coughlin

New York City sites will be in Manhattan, Staten Island, the Bronx, Brooklyn and Jamaica.

The governor also announced that "critical workforce" members, including in health care, restaurants, grocery stores, sanitation, pharmacies and other areas, who test positive for COVID-19 will be allowed to return to work after five days instead of 10 if they meet certain criteria.

Hochul said such workers who test positive will be able to return to work sooner if they are fully vaccinated and are asymptomatic, or their symptoms are resolving and they have not had a fever for 72 hours.

The policy is in line with new CDC guidelines, she said.

As COVID-19 cases continue to rise, Long Islanders on Friday, Christmas Eve, waited in line for hours in hopes of getting a test. Newsday's Steve Langford reports. Credit: Kendall Rodriguez; Gov. Kathy Hochul's Office

But one group representing nurses in the state said the guidelines may put them in danger.

"This guidance is inconsistent with proven science, vague, and doesn't provide definitions or explain standards at a time when decision-making for health-care systems is critical," Pat Kane, executive director of the New York State Nurses Association, said in a statement on Friday. "This guidance is only going to worsen the shortage and put our patients at risk."

LIers still standing in long lines

Meanwhile, Long Islanders and residents across the state have been standing in long lines for hours in the cold in recent days to try to get tested for COVID-19, and sometimes are not getting one at all.

Some politicians, including Rep. Tom Suozzi (D-Glen Cove), who is running against Hochul in the Democratic gubernatorial primary next year, have criticized Hochul for not reopening the state-run mass vaccination site at Jones Beach.

Both that site and the one at Stony Brook were shut down this past summer as COVID-19 cases declined.

"We saw this issue rising at the end of November and she has been too preoccupied with politicking, and we are now paying the price," Suozzi said Friday in a statement.

Hochul defended her handling of the pandemic.

"Thanks to vaccines and boosters, our fight against the pandemic is going better than last Christmas, but we still must ensure we're taking the proper precautions to keep each other safe this holiday season," she said in a statement Friday.

The seven-day average for positivity continued to soar on Long Island, hitting a record 13.05% in test results from Wednesday. That was the highest level of any region in the state, and an increase from 10.97% two days earlier.

Across the state, 69 people died on Thursday of causes linked to the virus, including seven in Suffolk and four in Nassau. The number of people hospitalized in the state because of COVID-19 increased by 210, to 4,744, according to state data.

As the holiday weekend moved into full gear on Christmas Eve Day, flight travel was taking a hit because of the omicron variant and staff shortages, airlines said.

There were 40 total flights canceled at Kennedy Airport, and 24 flights canceled at LaGuardia Airport on Friday afternoon, according to tracking service FlightAware. Delta Air Lines suspended 21 flights at JFK and 13 flights at LGA. Inclement weather, along with the virus, were impacting cancellations, Delta said in a statement.

United Airlines had one canceled flight out of JFK on Friday and none at LGA, according to FlightAware. United, in a statement, said omicron was impacting "our flight crews and the people who run our operation."

For reasons not yet disclosed, JetBlue cut 12 flights at JFK and four at LGA, according to FlightAware.

Christmas Day also will be impacted, with FlightAware reporting 26 flights canceled at JFK, including 20 Delta flights and one United flight. Meanwhile, LGA will see 19 total cancellations, including 12 Delta flights.

Flights out of Long Island MacArthur Airport appeared to be on schedule Friday. Southwest and American airlines, which run out the Ronkonkoma airport, were not experiencing any issues. Frontier Airlines had canceled one flight, but it was not immediately clear why.

Bracing for more potential travel disruptions, industry trade group Airlines for Americans urged the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to cut down its COVID-19 isolation guidelines for breakthrough infections from 10 days to five days with testing, according to a letter the group sent the agency on Thursday.

The Association for Flight Attendants-CWA, which represents 50,000 flight attendants, also wrote the CDC a letter on Thursday, asking to keep the current isolation protocols in place.

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