Gov. Kathy Hochul at a COVID-19 briefing Nov. 29. Courtesy photo

The omicron variant of the coronavirus, which has been labeled a variant of concern by the World Health Organization, is likely in New York, Gov. Kathy Hochul said this morning. This comes as a Minnesota resident who tested positive for the variant had attended a convention in New York City.

Hochul said that the variant has yet to be identified in New York, but that the state is anticipating cases to be identified in the coming days.

“There is only one way to address this New Yorkers: Get vaccinated, get boosted and get ready,” Hochul said. 

The genetic sequencing of the omicron variant was identified by scientists in South Africa last week, according to the WHO. The sequencing was later matched to cases of the virus in other countries and continents, including in Canada, prompting Hochul to declare a state of emergency. The first case of the omicron variant in the United States was identified yesterday in San Francisco from a resident who flew home from South Africa.

The person who tested positive for the omicron variant was an adult male who attended the Anime NYC 2021 convention at the Javits Center Nov. 19-21. The person developed mild symptoms on Nov. 22 and tested positive on Nov. 24, and has since recovered. The Minnesota DOH said epidemiologists will continue to investigate in collaboration with New York City and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“We fully expect it will be detected here in the coming days,” State Health Commissioner Mary Bassett said.

The variant was designated “of concern” due to mutations identified that may have an impact on how the virus behaves, the WHO said. Researchers are still determining if the variant is more transmissible or results in more severe cases of the disease.

It is also unclear how the new variant of the virus may interact with the current vaccinations, which were made in reference to the genetic sequencing of the earlier variants of the virus. The current cases indentified in the United States have been among vaccinated people and symptoms have been mild. Health officials are encouraging people eligible to get vaccinated and receive booster shots.

Hochul said that with her emergency powers, she has the ability to deploy the national guard to help reinforce the state’s healthcare workers, especially those in nursing homes. She wants to avoid hospitals postponing elective surgeries and procedures, as they did during the height of the pandemic last year, she said.

Hochul encourages residents to continue the recommended precautions to stop the spread of the virus, including wearing face masks in public places, getting vaccinated and practicing good hygiene.

President Joe Biden is expected to roll out a new strategy to address the potential of the variant’s danger and prevent a surge of the virus in the winter months, according to reports. He is expected to order health insurance companies to cover the costs of at-home COVID-19 tests, encouraging all Americans who are eligible to receive booster shots.

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Alek Lewis is a lifelong Riverhead resident and a 2021 graduate of Stony Brook University’s School of Communication and Journalism. Previously, he served as news editor of Stony Brook’s student newspaper, The Statesman, and was a member of the campus’s chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. Email: [email protected]