“New York State has confirmed five cases of the Omicron variant,” she said on Twitter. “Let me be clear: This is not cause for alarm. We knew this variant was coming and we have the tools to stop the spread. Get your vaccine. Get your booster. Wear your mask.”
At a press conference with Mayor Bill de Blasio at New York City Hall, Hochul said authorities “still don’t have specific information on how the vaccines [and] the boosters are holding up” against the new variant, which was reported by South Africa to the World Health Organization about a week ago.
“While this may be highly transmissible, at least from the early evidence, and again more information is still forthcoming, we want people to know that the early cases that have arisen are not life-threatening, they seem to be minor cases and that is a source of good news for us right now,” she added.
One of the cases is a 67-year-old woman in Suffolk County, who had at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, Hochul said. She had mild symptoms of a headache and a cough. The woman had traveled from South Africa and tested negative upon her return on Nov. 25, but tested positive later on Nov. 30.
Two more cases were of people based in Queens. Another case was from a Brooklyn-based resident. Hochul said there is no details on the fifth case apart from confirmation of the Omicron variant. The vaccination status of these four cases are currently unknown.
Minnesota health authorities earlier on Thursday confirmed the second U.S. case of the Omicron variant in a person who recently returned from New York City after having attended the Anime NYC convention at the Javits Center. They experienced mild symptoms.
A third U.S. case of the variant was detected in Colorado in a female resident of Arapahoe County who recently traveled to South Africa. She had been fully vaccinated but had yet to receive a booster shot.
The latest five cases reported in New York state brings the total number of U.S. confirmed cases of the Omicron variant to eight.
“We’re assuming in New York City there is community spread at this point, we have to, that’s the only way to approach this to protect everyone,” de Blasio told reporters. “We see a handful of cases, we’ve got to assume there’s a lot more behind that and that has been here for a meaningful amount of time.”
New York City Health Commissioner David Chokshi echoed de Blasio’s stance. “We’re in a situation where there is community spread.”
“Remember that sequencing, which is the specialized genetic testing that is done to identify different types of variants—this often takes several days for the machines to actually process that test,” he added. “So the initial PCR test will be several days before we actually get the sequencing results. The governor and the mayor decided to communicate this because we received all of [the five] sequencing results today.”
Not every PCR test undergoes gene sequencing, he noted when asked. “There is a subset of PCR tests that undergo sequencing. It depends [on] the jurisdiction. For New York City, we’re sequencing about 15 percent of all tests, which is a very good proportion for us to be able to pick up these trends over time.”
Throughout the press conference, Hochul, de Blasio, and Chokshi urged residents to get tested, wear their masks, practice social distancing, and get their vaccine or vaccine booster shots.