The New York City government on Monday issued a new mask advisory “at all times” indoors and expanded the scope of its vaccine mandate to childcare workers, after a new COVID-19 variant of concern called Omicron was announced earlier this month.
Effective immediately, every person in New York is “encouraged to wear a mask in indoor public settings,” regardless of their vaccination status, outgoing Mayor Bill de Blasio and Health Commissioner Dr. Dave Chokshi announced.
“We do anticipate detecting omicron in the coming days, based on what we know about its global spread,” Chokshi said, noting that there are currently no confirmed cases of the variant in the city.
He acknowledged that not much is known so far about the newly detected variant, but offered some details on its transmissibility and potential to evade a person’s immunity.
Omicron “does have similar mutations to other transmissible variants,” however there is lack of reliable evidence about the speed of spread, although some reports from South Africa indicate “potentially rapid spread,” he said.
Chokshi said preliminary evidence suggests that people who have survived a bout of COVID-19 “may be more easily reinfected with omicron,” adding, “This underscores our strong recommendation to get vaccinated regardless of whether you have already had COVID-19.”
De Blasio announced Monday on Twitter, “We know vaccine mandates work. Today we’re doubling down in New York City.
“We’re expanding our [COVID-19] vaccine mandate to include ALL childcare and early intervention programs. The deadline is December 20.”
The new mandate would cover another more than 100,000 workers, building on top of a previous vaccine mandate that applied to childcare workers contracted by the city.
New York City has seen multiple protests over the past months against the government’s COVID-19 vaccine mandates for health care workers, public school teachers, and municipal workers—who include police, firefighters, emergency workers, and sanitation workers.
New York state Gov. Kathy Hochul on Nov. 26 declared a state of emergency, citing potential COVID-19 case spikes this winter, and warned that the new Omicron variant is coming. She signed an executive order that allows the state’s health department to limit non-essential, non-urgent procedures if required.
The state of emergency is effective Dec. 3 and will be reassessed on Jan. 15 based on the situation.