Four more cases of the omicron variant have been detected in New York State, including two in Suffolk County, Gov. Kathy Hochul said Monday.
That brings the total in the state to 12 confirmed cases — including three in Suffolk — of omicron, which originated in South Africa and is classified by the World Health Organization as a "variant of concern." The other two new cases were in upstate Oneida County, Hochul said.
Hochul and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio on Thursday announced the first cases of the variant had been detected: four in New York City and one in Suffolk. The Long Island case was a 67-year-old woman who recently returned from South Africa. On Saturday, officials announced three more cases, all in New York City.
Suffolk County officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment Monday evening. They said last week that Suffolk is experiencing an increase in COVID-19 cases like much of the country.
Hochul said Thursday that a Minnesota man who tested positive for the omicron variant was at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center in Manhattan for the Anime NYC 2021 convention showcasing Japanese pop culture. She said Monday that none of the cases in New York are related to the convention, which was held Nov. 19-21, but the state Department of Health still urges anyone who attended to get tested.
The governor also said she is not planning to immediately impose any further regulations or mandates in the state to control the latest surge of the virus. Instead, she said, she is relying on local governments to decide what best suits their situation.
COVID-19 indicators vary throughout the state, with New York City — once a global epicenter of the pandemic — now showing some of the best numbers in New York. Its positivity level in testing for the virus is about 2%, while Long Island is nearly 6%, and some regions upstate are around 10%.
The positivity level is based on the amount of people who test positive — or are infected — out of the total tested each day.
DeBlasio on Monday announced a new mandate for all private sector employers to require their workers to get vaccinated. The city already requires city employees to be vaccinated, and has other mandates, such as requiring proof of vaccination to enter restaurants, sports venues and gyms.
With omicron lurking, medical experts on Monday were urging "caution" with holiday travel. They are not ruling out travel completely, but said it can be a lot more or less risky depending on the details.
"I really want to encourage families to get together, but I want them to think about how cautiously they can do it," said Dr. Sharon Nachman, chief of the division of pediatric diseases at Stony Brook Children's Hospital.
Because of the uptick in cases nationally and abroad, stricter travel regulations started Monday. The new rules require air travelers over the age of 2 to show proof of a negative COVID-19 test taken within one day of boarding a plane to the United States, according to the State Department.
All travelers are subject to the requirement, even if they are fully vaccinated and U.S. citizens or permanent residents. The airline must see proof of a negative viral test before a traveler is allowed to board a plane.
Dr. Frederick Davis, associate chair for emergency medicine at Long Island Jewish Medical Center in New Hyde Park, echoed Nachman's thoughts on traveling.
The decision is "going to be very person-to-person dependent," he said. "Just like we were last year, we want to be extra cautious around this time of year."
Nachman said families should evaluate their situation and then decide. If anyone is feeling sick, traveling is not a good idea, she said.
Then, look at what you are walking into: "Is it going to be a family of 30 or 40, or is it going to be eight people around the table?" she said. "Are you sleeping there or are you there for a short time, just saying hello, dropping in, and leaving? And if you are there for longer, can you keep the windows open?"
Another strategy is to get rapid COVID-19 tests before leaving to make sure everyone is not infected, Nachman said.
Dr. Alan Bulbin, director of infectious disease at Catholic Health St. Francis Hospital & Heart Center in Roslyn, said calculating risk versus benefit involves the same factors it has all along during the pandemic.
"I can’t say don’t travel or don’t visit your family, but you have to weigh your risks," he said. "And certainly if you know that everybody in that room is vaccinated and you’re doing what you can to keep some degree of social distancing, some attention to the ventilation in that space, then you could have more peace of mind."
He added that a prerequisite to any travel or gathering should be being vaccinated or boosted. "There’s no downside," he said.
Many people planning to travel are venturing to Florida, Hawaii or the Caribbean, said Anne Lischwe, travel sales manager for New York and New Jersey at AAA Northeast. So far, most are not deterred by concerns about the omicron variant, she said.
"We are seeing some people, if they are traveling soon, who have pushed back a little bit or are thinking about changing their plans," Lischwe said. "But the biggest impact is the new requirement to re-enter the U.S. It used to be 72 hours that you needed a negative test, but now it’s 24 hours."
Meanwhile, the number of new COVID-19 cases on Long Island was 2,038 in test results from Saturday, though they dropped in results from Sunday. Nassau County registered 399 new cases, and Suffolk had 499, for a total of 898. The quantity of tests often drops on Sundays.
New York City tallied 1,521 new cases in test results from Sunday.
The seven-day average for positivity in testing for COVID-19 dropped slightly to 5.89% on Long Island in results Sunday, from 5.95% the previous day.
COVID-19 claimed the lives of 49 New Yorkers on Sunday, including two in Nassau and three in Suffolk, according to state data.
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