NEW YORK (PIX11) — New York announced three more cases of the omicron variant of the coronavirus on Saturday, bringing the number of state cases linked to the new variant to eight. “The omicron variant is here, and as anticipated we are seeing the beginning of community spread,” state Health Commissioner Mary Bassett said in a news release.
The number of states finding the variant is growing as well, with Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Washington state announcing their first cases Saturday, a day after New Jersey, Georgia, Pennsylvania, and Maryland reported their first confirmed cases. Missouri reported its first presumed case Friday.
So far, it hasn’t been diagnosed in Vermont. But the variant also has been detected in Nebraska, Minnesota, California, Hawaii, Colorado, and Utah.
In New York, seven of the cases have been found in New York City, once a global epicenter of the pandemic, and another on Long Island. Omicron comes as hospitals statewide continue to strain under a surge in coronavirus cases, most traced to the delta variant, along with staffing shortages. The number of people testing positive statewide each day for the virus has doubled in the last 30 days.
Gov. Kathy Hochul in recent days has authorized the Health Department to limit nonessential, non-urgent procedures at hospitals close to running out of beds and deployed National Guard teams to relieve health care workers at facilities dealing with staffing issues and surging caseloads.
Fifteen members of the National Guard arrived at Monroe Community Hospital in Rochester on Saturday, WROC reported. Lt. Gov. Brian Benjamin said Wednesday the state would send 13 National Guard teams to the western New York county, where County Executive Adam Bello has declared a state of emergency.
New York’s omicron cases so far appear to be unrelated, Hochul said. One of the known cases involved a man from Minnesota who was among 50,000 people who attended a three-day anime festival in New York City in November. Authorities have urged anyone who attended the conference to get tested for COVID and wear a mask in public.
“We knew the omicron variant was coming and we expect to see more cases. But let me be clear: We are not defenseless,” Hochul said. “We have the tools to help prevent the spread of this deadly virus: Get your vaccine, get your booster, and wear your mask.”
To improve the response to new variants, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand made a push Sunday for the COVID and Pandemic Response Centers of Excellence Act. If passed, the bill would authorize the Department of Health and Human Services to provide $10 million to at least 10 academic medical centers across the country to better respond to public health emergencies and to save lives.
“Viruses evolve and our ability to respond must evolve alongside them whether that’s our ability to monitor and meet the needs of Covid long haulers, track new variants like omicron or prepare for the next health to emergency,” said Sen. Gillibrand.
Sen. Chuck Schumer also called on the federal government to supply a surge of at-home test kits for New Yorkers to access for free, in an effort to stop omicron in its tracks.
Much remains unknown about omicron, including whether it is more contagious, as some health authorities suspect, whether it can thwart vaccines, and whether it makes people as sick as the original strain. The variant is rapidly spreading, but early indications suggest it may be less dangerous than delta.
“It does not look like there’s a great degree of severity to it. But we have to be careful before we make any determinations that it’s less severe or really doesn’t cause severe illness,” said Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, on CNN’s “State of the Nation.”
A Massachusetts woman in her 20s who had traveled out of state is the first known case of the variant detected in her state, the Department of Public Health announced Saturday. The unidentified woman—a resident of Middlesex County—is fully vaccinated and has experienced mild symptoms.
Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont on Saturday reported his state’s first confirmed case of the variant, saying it may also be linked to the New York City anime convention. The case involves a vaccinated Hartford-area man in his 60s who has a family member who attended the convention. The family member, who is also vaccinated, developed symptoms that have since resolved, Lamont’s office said.
A woman who recently traveled from South Africa became both New Jersey and Georgia’s first confirmed case after seeking care for moderate symptoms at an emergency room. The fully vaccinated Georgia resident was in her home state for two days between arriving from South Africa and traveling onward to New Jersey, health officials in both states said.
In Pennsylvania, a man in his 30s from Philadelphia became that state’s first case. The Philadelphia Department of Public Health did not immediately say whether the man was vaccinated against COVID or if he had been traveling.
Maryland’s first three cases of the omicron variant were found in the Baltimore metropolitan region and include two people from the same household, authorities said. One of the two is a vaccinated person who recently traveled to South Africa. The third case, detected in a vaccinated person with no recent travel history, is unrelated.
In Washington state, three cases of the omicron variant were confirmed Saturday—one each in Thurston, Pierce, and King counties, state health officials said. They noted the investigation is still early, and details were not yet known on the travel histories of the patients, two men and a woman who range from 20 to 39 years old.
Missouri’s presumed first case involves someone who recently traveled within the U.S., according to state health officials, who did not provide additional details about the St. Louis resident. The St. Louis Health Department said it was awaiting confirmation from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Case counts in California, Nebraska, and Colorado grew Friday. Five cases in Northern California were linked to a wedding in Wisconsin late last month, public health officials said. One of the individuals had recently returned from traveling internationally, according to the Alameda County Department of Public Health.
Health officials confirmed six new cases of the variant in southeastern Nebraska. State health officials said the state’s first case likely stemmed from one of the six who recently traveled to Nigeria and returned on November 23. Colorado detected the state’s second case of the omicron variant just a day after the state’s first confirmed case, officials said Friday.
Meanwhile, 10 people aboard a Norwegian Cruise Line ship approaching New Orleans have tested positive for COVID, officials said Saturday night. The Norwegian Breakaway departed the city on November 28 and was due to return this weekend after making stops in Belize, Honduras, and Mexico in recent days, Louisiana’s health agency said. More than 3,200 people are on board. Officials did not immediately say whether the passengers had been tested for virus variants.