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NYC mayor urges masks for indoor locations, issues vaccine mandate for child-care employees

The New York City Health department said they

The New York City Health department said they recommend mask wearing at all times in indoor public settings regardless of vaccination status. Credit: NY Mayor's Office

Amid fears about the new omicron variant of the coronavirus, Mayor Bill de Blasio on Monday urged New York City residents, including the fully vaccinated, to remain masked at all indoor locations while issuing a new vaccine mandate for child-care and early-intervention employees.

The mayor and city health officials said there have been no reported cases of omicron — which was first reported as being present in South Africa a few days ago — in New York, but that is expected to change in the coming days.

"We are very carefully watching this situation," de Blasio said during his daily news briefing.

" … Based on our latest research by the Department of Health there are no omicron cases here in New York City at this moment. It is very likely there will be, but there are no cases at this moment."

Health Commissioner Dr. David Chokshi said, "We do anticipate detecting omicron in New York in the coming days based on what we know about its global spread."

It remains unclear, Chokshi said, if omicron will prove to be more transmissible and cause more severe disease than previous coronavirus mutations or if the variant will pierce immunity from vaccination or prior infection.

"Based on what we have seen with other variants we do expect the vaccines to retain some degree of effectiveness," Chokshi said, adding that the vaccine has proved effective to date with all previous variants. "But precisely how much will take a couple of weeks to clarify."

In anticipation of omicron's emergence amid the ongoing holiday season, city officials renewed their recommendation for New Yorkers to wear a mask while indoors at all public settings.

The mayor said he is not ready to issue a mask mandate for all indoor sites until more is learned about the variant.

But de Blasio did issue a new mandate Monday requiring 102,000 city child-care and early-intervention workers to get vaccinated by Dec. 20 or risk being put on unpaid furloughs.

"This is going to be important for the employees and their own health obviously but it's also important for protecting the health of the kids who are in these child care programs," said de Blasio, who has issued similar mandates for city school employees and a host of other municipal workers.

To date, 88% of city adults, and 81% of New Yorkers ages 12-17, have received at least one shot while 16% of children ages 5-11 have taken their first dose since the vaccine was approved for youngsters last month.

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