What to Know
- The omicron variant is fueling a surge that has set single-day pandemic records for statewide cases four days in a row; COVID hospitalizations are the highest they’ve been since mid-April
- Given high vaccination rates for the densest parts of NY, especially the city, and increases in booster doses, amid other protective tools, Gov. Kathy Hochul says the state will be able to ride out this wave
- Most importantly, the Democrat says she doesn’t anticipate the need for another shutdown. On schools, she stressed, “We are keeping our schools open. Let me repeat that: We are keeping our schools open”
New York state’s vaccinated health commissioner tested positive for COVID-19 via a rapid test, marking yet another breakthrough case as the Big Apple battles a record-breaking viral surge, Gov. Kathy Hochul said Monday as she acknowledged the open seat next to her. Dr. Mary T. Bassett has also gotten her booster, she added.
News of the positive test for the state’s leading health official came the same day the Empire State broke its own single-day pandemic case record for a fourth straight day, with Hochul reporting nearly 23,400 new cases overnight. The lion’s share of those infections come from New York City, where over 15,000 people tested positive, up nearly 50% since Friday.
The strain of coronavirus that infected Bassett wasn’t known and would take more extensive testing to determine if it were omicron, as all isolation of variants requires.
The unprecedented infectiousness of the new variant, and its apparent ability to evade the immune system, has stoked anxiety across the state and nation, but officials are quick to point out it doesn’t appear to cause more severe disease — at least for those who are fully vaccinated and received a booster like Bassett, for whom Hochul described no severe symptoms as a result of her infection.
The Democrat insisted fully vaccinated and boosted New Yorkers can safely gather with other fully vaccinated and boosted loved ones this holiday season and take solace in the expectation that those key protections, along with enhanced mask protocol in crowds at least through the season, will spare them any severe COVID illness this winter. She also insisted once again Monday that these tools, which were not widely available this time last year, will spare the state another shutdown.
Moderna says its COVID-19 booster does appear to provide protection against the omicron variant.
“It’s not March of 2020. It’s not even December of 2020. Just to keep things in perspective, it is milder than delta,” Hochul said of omicron. “We are avoiding a government shutdown because we now have the tools available to all of us — vaccinations, booster shots, masks — particularly for the variant we’re dealing with.”
“We are keeping our schools open,” Hochul emphasized. “Let me repeat that: We are keeping schools open.”
For the nearly 20% of New York adults who aren’t yet fully vaccinated, omicron — and the still pervasive delta variant, the story could be different. Hochul has been vocal about her mounting frustration with that group in recent weeks.
She has called out certain parts of the state with particularly low rates, like the Southern Tier, North Country and Mohawk Valley, for contributing to the furious spread of a pandemic-causing virus that feeds off its ability to mutate.
Only about two-thirds of adult residents in those regions are fully vaccinated, the latest state data show. That compares with about 83% of New York City adults and 86% of those on Long Island. The number of cases per 100,000 residents over a seven-day rolling period hits the denser areas harder, with the city and Long Island reporting 92.9 and 102.8 new cases per 100,000 residents by that metric.
The Southern Tier is the most densely populated of the three lowest vaccinated regions in New York state and has the highest new cases per 100,000 residents rate (110.4) of all 10 regions. New York City has roughly six times the population of the Southern Tier and a lower hospitalization per 100,000 residents rate (11.46) over the last seven days than any other region in the state.
Long Island is third-lowest (19.67), with another highly vaccinated region, Mid-Hudson, sandwiched in between. These numbers are further evidence, officials say, of the power of existing vaccines to prevent severe COVID-linked illness and death, whatever the variant linked to the increases in infections.
At least 192 cases of omicron have now been confirmed in New York state, about a fifth of them in New York City, though experts believe that 192 number is significantly underreported. The Empire State only conducts the genetic sequencing necessary to isolate variants on 3.6% of positive COVID samples, well lower than other hotspots like California (6.07%) but higher than New Jersey.
While the exact number of new omicron cases across the state can be difficult to determine given those…