Photo: Mike Groll/Office of Governor Kathy Hochul on Flickr
Gov. Kathy Hochul on Friday declared a state of emergency for the state of New York to prepare for the new omicron variant of the coronavirus. The order allows the Department of Health to stop non-urgent surgeries at hospitals with less than 10 percent of beds available. While the new variant has not yet been detected in New York, “it’s coming,” according to Hochul, who in her order said the state is now experiencing Covid transmission rates not seen since April 2020.
The World Health Organization last week designated the variant omicron a “variant of concern,” after it was detected first by researchers in South Africa and then in several countries. It remains unclear as of yet whether the new variant is more transmissible and whether it causes more severe disease compared to infections with other variants.
“We’ve taken extraordinary action to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and combat this pandemic,” Hochul said in a statement. “However, we continue to see warning signs of spikes this upcoming winter, and while the new Omicron variant has yet to be detected in New York State, it’s coming.”
The new protocols begin on Friday, December 3, and will be reassessed on January 15. According to the governor, the executive order also allows the state to acquire supplies to fight the pandemic more quickly.
Under the order, the Health Department can stop non-emergency procedures for hospitals or systems with limited capacity. According to the governor, limited capacity is defined as “below 10 percent staffed bed capacity.”
The state’s last Covid state of emergency, put in place originally by former Gov. Andrew Cuomo in March 2020, ended just five months prior at the end of June.
Scientists are also studying whether current Covid vaccines will still prevent severe illness and death. According to the New York Times, Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna are prepared to “reformulate their shots if necessary” to fight this new variant.
As of Sunday, roughly 90 percent of adults in New York have received at least one dose and just over 80 percent are fully vaccinated, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
New York City’s Health Department on Monday updated its mask advisory to recommend masks indoors regardless of vaccination status.
“Our understanding of omicron will advance, and we’ll be able to adjust our public health strategies accordingly,” NYC Health Commissioner Dr. Dave Chokshi said.
“Until then, let’s bring to bear our tried-and-true tools that are already helping us keep COVID-19 at bay.”
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