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Hochul: 5 Omicron cases detected in NY not cause for alarm

New York Governor Kathy Hochul speaking at the state capitol Aug. 31, 2021.jpg
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New York Governor Kathy Hochul speaking at the state capitol Aug. 31, 2021

New York Governor Kathy Hochul announced Thursday evening that five cases of the Omicron variant of COVID-19 have been confirmed in the state. Still, Hochul says it's not a cause for alarm. The governor says 4 of the cases are in New York City and the other is in Suffolk County.
It comes as new cases of coronavirus continue to spike in parts of upstate New York.

Earlier in the day Hochul said a Minnesota resident who was at a convention in New York City in mid-November was the first known case of the Omicron variant in the state.

“Just recently we learned from the department of health in Minnesota that one of their constituents has tested positive for Omicron,” Hochul said. “They were at a conference at the Javits Center.”

The person had only mild symptoms that have since resolved. Hochul says state health officials are working with the Javits Center, and advises anyone who was at the center between November 18th and 22nd to get tested for the virus.

Hochul says the best response is for those who have not yet received vaccines to get their shots, those who are fully vaccinated to get a booster shot, and for everyone to be ready for more Omicron cases.

“This is not cause for alarm,” Hochul said. “It was foreseen ever since it was reported out of South Africa that we knew it would come to New York state at some point. I want all New Yorkers to know that their state government, in collaboration with our local governments, our cities and our counties, are prepared for this.”

Hochul already declared a state of emergency that will allow her to ban elective surgeries at hospitals where bed and staffing capacity is at less than 10%. Over 50 hospitals in upstate New York meet that criteria. The surgery cancellations could begin as early as Friday. The ban would continue until January 15th.

Hochul says for now, she is not issuing any new mask mandates or economic shutdowns.

“I’m not prepared to shut down schools or the economy at this time,” Hochul said. “That is not a necessary response, that would be considered an overreaction.”

Hochul, at the briefing, also introduced the state’s new heath commissioner, Dr. Mary Bassett, who formerly served as New York City’s health commissioner. Bassett replaces Dr. Howard Zucker who was appointed by former Governor Andrew Cuomo. Zucker, who resigned, oversaw nursing home policy during the height of the pandemic in 2020. The state’s Attorney General found that during that time, the Cuomo administration undercounted nursing home deaths by 50%. Those incidents are the subject of a federal investigation. Cuomo resigned in August over a sexual harassment scandal.

Bassett, who is the first African-American health commissioner, says she is “no stranger to crisis.” She worked in Africa at the height of the AIDS epidemic and oversaw New York City’s response to Zika, Ebola, and Legionnaire’s Disease outbreaks. She says throughout that, she’s learned the importance of “truth telling.”

“I’ll tell the governor what we know, what we don’t know, and what our best judgment is, ”said Bassett. “And I’ll tell the public the same thing.”

Hochul’s event comes as her political opponents are criticizing the governor’s COVID policies. Attorney General Tish James, who, like Hochul, is running for governor in 2022, says the governor is not doing enough for communities with low vaccination rates. Long Island Congressman Tom Suozzi, who is also running in the Democratic primary for governor, recommends the return of Cuomo-era micro zones to impose restrictions and help contain the spread of the virus.

Hochul did not address her opponent’s criticisms.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of public radio stations in New York state. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.