Residents wait in line at a Covid-19 mobile testing site in the Times Square neighborhood of New York, U.S., on Sunday, Dec. 5, 2021.
Jeenah Moon | Bloomberg | Getty Images
New York state has confirmed 20 cases of the omicron variant of Covid-19, with 13 found in the New York City, Gov. Kathy Hochul announced Thursday.
Hochul said the state expects these case numbers to “continue to rise,” and noted that there is community spread of the new variant.
“At this point we are prepared to say what we have is community spread,” the governor said at a press conference in New York City. “It is not coming from people who have traveled, it is being spread in the community.”
The announcement comes one week after New York state confirmed its first five cases of the highly mutated omicron variant.
It was first identified in southern Africa in later November and has since been found in more than 20 U.S. states and 57 countries across the world, according to the WHO. Scientists are still scrambling to answer questions about the variant’s severity, transmissibility and impact on vaccine efficacy.
Hochul noted that preliminary evidence suggests that the variant “spreads very quickly” but the state is prepared.
“We are working very hard to make sure we have all the tools at our disposal as I’ve mentioned,” Hochul said, noting that the state department of health’s Wadsworth Center is continuing to sequence positive cases to identify the variant.
The governor added that vaccines continue offer a degree of protection against severe disease.
Her remarks come a day after Pfizer and BioNTech released an initial lab study that found two doses of the vaccine showed a reduction in the ability of antibodies to target and neutralize the omicron variant. However, the study found a third shot increases antibody protection 25-fold.
Hochul noted that nearly 500,000 booster doses were provided in the state during the last week, a 50% increase from the previous week. Dr. Mary Bassett, the New York health commissioner, encouraged New Yorkers to get vaccinated and boosted ahead of the holiday season.
“We want people to get fully vaccinated,” Bassett said. “If you’re fully vaccinated, we want you to get a booster.”
But Bassett emphasized that the delta variant remains the primary driver of high case rates and hospitalizations in the state and across the U.S.
“It remains overwhelmingly the dominant strain in the United States, in fact around the world,” Bassett said. “And we don’t know yet whether omicron will outlive delta.”