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Northeast prepping for COVID Omicron variant

Governor Kathy Hochul tweeted a warning Monday than Omicron is "just across the bridge in Ontario. It’s not a question of if it comes to New York, but when."
Governor Kathy Hochul tweeted a warning Monday than Omicron is "just across the bridge in Ontario. It’s not a question of if it comes to New York, but when."

With emerging COVID-19 variant Omicron threatening another wave of coronavirus infections, New York state officials are bracing.

According to New York State's Daily Hospitalization Summary, in the Capital Region on Friday, 277 people were hospitalized, 59 of them in an Intensive Care Unit.

Governor Kathy Hochul tweeted a warning Monday than Omicron is "just across the bridge in Ontario. It’s not a question of if it comes to New York, but when."

Soon after, the New York City Health Commissioner issued a mask advisory, saying New Yorkers, even those who are vaccinated, should wear masks at all times when inside in public settings.

Albany County Executive Dan McCoy says the total number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the county is now at 34,122 to date, with 75 new positive cases identified since Sunday. His office says it is awaiting signs of any surge in infections following the holidays in order to determine "next steps" in terms of any additional COVID restrictions.

“…which is kind of alarming, especially after holiday and coming off Thanksgiving, everyone traveling, our numbers were high prior to Thanksgiving, we're a little worried what this week's gonna look like going forward," McCoy said. "Our daily average is still up at 117. And more often than not, we're seeing daily infections in the triple digits, which is scary also. And last week, we reported four people that passed away with COVID-19. And one of them was a woman, you know, and, you know, one was a woman in her 90s. And you know, when people hear that, and your listeners hear they're in their 90s, or their 80s or 70s, there's still quality of life left and family want to enjoy their loved ones. It's a tragedy that we're still losing people, you know, almost two years later. And the alarming thing that we've been really monitoring here in the county is the hospitalizations with the ICUs. And right now there's 53 Albany County residents currently in the hospital, and that's been the highest since February 25th.”

The death toll for Albany County now stands at 443 since the outbreak began.

McCoy says he is fully vaccinated and has continued wearing a mask, and advises others to do so as well.

“And now with a new variant coming from South Africa, and you see the way it's already affecting Europe, lockdowns, no flights to Africa," said McCoy. "I think it was New Zealand started anyone unvaccinated has to have a card, they can only go to the grocery store one day a week, work and back, stay home. You know, I don't want to get back there. I don't want to get back to all the restrictions we had last year because the mental health of people.”

McCoy says any new spike in COVID infections following gatherings for Thanksgiving and the start of Hanukkah would likely be seen anywhere between five and 10 days out.

Albany Medical Center spokesperson Sue Ford says the hospital has instituted updated visitation guidelines. Visiting hours remain 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., with one visitor allowed at a patient’s bedside at a time; visitors are not permitted to swap out with others during visitation hours each day. Albany Med continues to urge everyone age 5 and over to receive the vaccine, and to get the booster when they are eligible.

Dr. Brian McDermott at Saratoga Hospital says it’s too early to make any judgements about Omicron itself.

“At this point, I don't see us doing anything differently for the near term," said McDermott. "I think the things to remember really are, so first, there have been over the last year, they go through the Greek alphabet for the letters for the different strains, they've left out a couple. But there have been eight to 10 variants of concern over the last year, of which only two, the Alpha and the Delta have proven to be of significance. So what that means yet for Omicron, is unknown yet, it'll take a little more time to tell. But for us here in New York, we're in the middle of a COVID crisis, as bad as we've seen it, really to date. So we need to remember that we're living it and feeling it right now. Hospitals regionally are, are at a capacity that they haven't been at, in in in a year. If you remember, a year ago, after Thanksgiving, we were just on the rise of what led to our biggest COVID spike at the end of last year. And at that point, Saratoga hospital had 10 people in the hospital with COVID. This morning, we have 40. “

Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.
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