Covid Live Updates: New York Reports Five Omicron Cases
After the first U.S. Omicron case was detected in California, more cases have been reported in New York, Minnesota, Hawaii and Colorado. President Biden has announced a new strategy for fighting the virus.,
First Cases of Omicron Coronavirus Variant Detected in New York
Mayor Bill de Blasio and Gov. Kathy Hochul of New York addressed the several cases of the Omicron variant that have been reported in the United States, including five people in New York City and on Long Island.
“There are five cases identified today in the State of New York. The first one was in Suffolk County. And it was a 67-year-old female who had symptoms, mild symptoms of a headache and a cough. Our second case is a Queens based. The vaccination status is unknown to know whether or not this person have been vaccinated or not. Third case, similar situation. No other further personal details, but the vaccination status is unknown, Queens based. And another case is from Brooklyn, unknown vaccination status. And we just received word of another suspected traveler case here in the city that was identified — in the city in one of the five boroughs. This is not a cause for major alarm. I need to say that, because we do not have enough information. We’re not having shutdowns. We’re not changing our protocols. We are continuing where we are, but making sure that we work in concert together and encourage people to get tested, get tested often get the vaccination. And that, again, is our best defense.” “We have a new situation, but we also know there’s a lot of information we do not yet have about Omicron. We know we now have cases here in New York City. We have to assume that means there’s community spread. We have to assume that means we’re going to see a lot more cases. But we also have tremendous tools, as the governor said. We have a massive vaccination apparatus and that is by far our best capacity to protect everyone against this variant or any other form of Covid.”
Mayor Bill de Blasio and Gov. Kathy Hochul of New York addressed the several cases of the Omicron variant that have been reported in the United States, including five people in New York City and on Long Island.CreditCredit…Dave Sanders for The New York Times
New York State has confirmed its first five cases of the Omicron variant, Gov. Kathy Hochul and Mayor Bill de Blasio announced on Thursday evening.
At a rare joint news conference, the leaders encouraged residents to get vaccinated to protect themselves from the coronavirus and urged them not to panic. They said it was too soon to know how much of a threat the variant might pose to the state.
“This is not a cause for major alarm,” Ms. Hochul said, adding that she was not announcing a shutdown or other drastic measures in response to the cases.
Ms. Hochul provided basic details about the five cases: a 67-year-old woman in Suffolk County who returned from South Africa, had mild symptoms and had received at least one dose of a vaccine; two residents in Queens; one resident in Brooklyn and another person in New York City who had traveled recently. The woman in Suffolk County tested positive on Nov. 30.
Ms. Hochul and Mr. de Blasio said that the state was better positioned to fight the new variant than it was early on in the pandemic, when New York was the global epicenter of the health crisis, because so many New Yorkers have gotten vaccinated and officials now have more tools to combat the virus.
“We are in a far better place,” Ms. Hochul said.
Still, Mr. de Blasio said that he expected to see more Omicron cases detected in the coming days.
“We have to assume there’s community spread,” he said.
Earlier in the day, Ms. Hochul had urged attendees of a recent anime convention in Manhattan to get tested because someone who tested positive for the Omicron variant in Minnesota had attended the convention.
The hastily called news conference at City Hall in Lower Manhattan with Ms. Hochul and Mr. de Blasio was eerily reminiscent of the response from officials in early March 2020. When Ms. Hochul’s predecessor, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, announced the first coronavirus case in New York on March 1, he said that “this was expected” and “there is no reason for undue anxiety.”
Even before the Omicron variant arrived, coronavirus cases have been rising in New York City — daily case counts have increased more than 75 percent since Nov. 1. While 77 percent of New York City residents have received at least one shot of the vaccine, fewer than 20 percent of adults have gotten their booster shot.
Ms. Hochul and Mr. de Blasio, both Democrats, encouraged people to wear masks indoors, but they have stopped short of a mandate. Ms. Hochul said her greatest concern was overcrowding at hospitals and that officials were working to ensure that hospitals have enough capacity.
“We’re just trying to let people know, ‘We’ve got this’,” she said.
The fact that Ms. Hochul and Mr. de Blasio appeared together was notable. Mr. de Blasio had a notoriously acrid relationship with Mr. Cuomo, and they quarreled frequently over the pandemic response.
Ms. Hochul made clear that she was working closely with Mr. de Blasio.
“This is about unity,” Ms. Hochul said. “There’s a reason we’re here together — to signal that this is a challenge that we’re going to tackle together.”
Several more cases of the Omicron variant of the coronavirus were reported in the United States on Thursday, including five people in New York City and on Long Island, officials said. Other cases were reported in Minnesota, Hawaii, California and Colorado.
Gov. Kathy Hochul of New York said one of the cases in her state was a 67-year-old woman from Suffolk County on Long Island who had recently traveled to South Africa and had tested positive for the new variant, which is highly mutated. The woman had been vaccinated and had mild symptoms of Covid-19, Ms. Hochul said. She said the new cases were “no cause for alarm.”
Minnesota health officials said that a man who lives in the state was infected with the Omicron variant after recently traveling to New York City.
A woman who lives in Colorado became the state’s first case of Omicron, state health officials said, after she recently returned from a trip to southern Africa for tourism. She had been fully vaccinated and was eligible for a booster shot but had not yet received it. She was experiencing mild symptoms and isolating at home.
Health authorities had confirmed on Wednesday the first known U.S. case of the Omicron variant was detected in a San Francisco resident who returned to California from South Africa on Nov. 22. And on Thursday, Los Angeles county confirmed an additional case in California, a fully vaccinated adult who had traveled to South Africa in late November.
But an O’ahu resident with no history of travel is the first Omicron case in Hawaii. “This is a case of community spread,” the state department of health said in a news release. The individual had previously been infected with the coronavirus but was never vaccinated.
Much remains unknown about Omicron, including whether it is more transmissible and capable of causing more serious illness.
According to the Minnesota Department of Health, the man is a resident of Hennepin County, which includes Minneapolis. He had been vaccinated, and he got a booster shot in early November. He is no longer feeling symptoms, the department said.
The man first developed mild symptoms on Nov. 22, shortly after traveling to New York City for the Anime NYC 2021 convention at the Javits Center, the department said. Officials said the man had not been outside the United States recently. Gov. Kathy Hochul of New York said on Thursday that everyone who attended the convention should get tested for the coronavirus, while Mayor Bill de Blasio said the city had activated its contact tracing program to track down people who attended the event. He added that “we should assume there is community spread of the variant in our city.”
One of his close contacts has since tested positive for the coronavirus, officials said, but because a rapid test was used, scientists have not yet determined whether that person, who is also in Minnesota, had the Omicron variant as well.
Genetic sequencing is required to determine which variant a patient has. In recent months the United States has greatly expanded sequencing, but the process takes time — at the Centers for Disease Control, typically about 10 days — to yield results. Currently, according to the agency’s director, Dr. Rochelle P. Walensky, about 14 percent of all positive P.C.R. tests in the U.S. are being sequenced.
Though the new Omicron variant is grabbing headlines, officials warned that the earlier Delta variant of the coronavirus remains prevalent and is still spreading in the United States, posing a grave risk especially to unvaccinated Americans, who are much more likely than vaccinated people to become severely ill if they are infected.
Gov. Kathy Hochul of New York said on Thursday that everyone who attended a recent anime convention in Manhattan should get tested for the coronavirus, after it was announced that an individual who tested positive for the Omicron variant in Minnesota had attended to the conference.
Five other cases were reported in New York City and on Long Island, the governor announced later in the day. Those included a 67-year-old woman from Suffolk County who had recently traveled to South Africa, was vaccinated and experienced mild symptoms of Covid-19.
Ms. Hochul said the Minnesota resident was also vaccinated and experienced mild symptoms. He had attended the Anime NYC 2021 convention at the Javits Center in Midtown Manhattan.
She urged people who attended the event, which was held from Nov. 19 to Nov. 21, to get tested and said that health officials would be in contact with attendees. The convention hosted 53,000 attendees over three days, according to a spokesman for the Javits Center.
“We do anticipate there’ll be more cases,” Ms. Hochul said. “This is not cause for alarm; it was foreseen ever since it was first reported out of South Africa, that we knew it would come to New York State at some point.”
Much remains unknown about Omicron, including whether it is more transmissible and capable of causing more serious illness. People had to be vaccinated with at least one dose and wear masks to attend the conference. Proof of at least one dose is required for many indoor activities citywide. New York State and New York City do not have universal indoor mask mandates.
Mayor Bill de Blasio said the city had activated its contact tracing program to track down people who attended the event at the Javits Center, adding that “we should assume there is community spread of the variant in our city.”
Ms. Hochul made her remarks on Thursday during a coronavirus briefing in which she introduced Dr. Mary T. Bassett, the newly-appointed New York State health commissioner.
Since Nov. 1, daily case counts in New York City have risen quite a bit, reaching 1,500 newly identified cases a day last week. The rise, driven by the Delta variant, has been steepest in Queens, a borough with vaccination rates well above the citywide average.
“The fact that we have not detected it may mean that it’s still extraordinarily rare here, that it is the proverbial needle in the haystack,” Dr. Bassett said of the Omicron variant. “We now have an exposure and we fully expect that it will be detected in the coming days.”
New York City will require employees at yeshivas, Catholic schools and other private schools to be vaccinated against the coronavirus, as part of the city’s latest push to expand vaccine mandates.
The new directive, which was announced on Thursday, is expected to affect roughly 930 schools and 56,000 employees, city officials said. They will have to show proof they received the first dose of a vaccine by Dec. 20.
“We’re doing everything in our power to protect our students and school staff, and a mandate for nonpublic school employees will help keep our school communities and youngest New Yorkers safe,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said in a statement.
Teachers and other employees at public schools were already required to get vaccinated, and more than 95 percent of the Department of Education’s employees have done so. Students are not required to be vaccinated, and the mayor has resisted setting a mandate for students, as some other American cities have.
As New York City faces growing concerns over the Omicron variant, Mr. de Blasio has encouraged New Yorkers to wear masks indoors, and has put in place a vaccine mandate for child care workers.
His order requiring vaccines for all city employees, including police officers and firefighters, faced resistance from some unions, but most workers eventually got vaccinated. Mr. de Blasio also required proof of vaccination for indoor dining, entertainment and gyms.
The new rules could face opposition from those employed at yeshivas, a group of ultra-Orthodox Jewish private schools, because of resistance to the vaccine.
Ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods, some of which have been ravaged by the coronavirus, have some of the lowest vaccination rates in the city. Misinformation campaigns led to a resistance to restrictions and safety guidelines at the height of the pandemic that at times caused virus cases to surge.
Biden Outlines Winter Covid Strategy
President Biden laid out his new pandemic strategy, including booster shots for all adults, vaccination sites aimed at families, testing requirements for international travelers and access to free at-home tests.
Today, I’m back to announce our action plan to battle Covid-19 this winter. And it doesn’t include shutdowns or lockdowns, but widespread vaccinations and boosters and testing a lot more. First is expanding the nationwide booster campaign with more outreach, more appointments, more hours, more times and sites to walk in, providing boosters shots for up to 110 million Americans who are eligible for boosters. Launching new family vaccination clinics to make it easier for children, parents and whole families to get vaccinated into one place, and new policies to keep our children in school instead of quarantining them at home. The third piece of this is making free at-home tests more available than ever before, and having them covered by your private insurance plans available in thousands of locations and available community health centers and other sites for the uninsured who don’t have insurance. We’re going to accelerate our efforts to vaccinate the rest of the world and strengthen, and strengthen the international travel rules for people coming to the United States. My plan that I’m announcing today pulls no punches in the fight against Covid-19, and it’s a plan that I think should unite us. We’re going to fight this variant with science and speed, not chaos and confusion.
President Biden laid out his new pandemic strategy, including booster shots for all adults, vaccination sites aimed at families, testing requirements for international travelers and access to free at-home tests.CreditCredit…Pete Marovich for The New York Times
Over-the-counter rapid coronavirus tests will soon become a much bigger part of the Biden administration’s response to the pandemic and the new Omicron variant.
After a primary focus on vaccination, the White House announced on Thursday that private health insurers would soon have to reimburse patients for such tests. It also said it would make 50 million free tests available for uninsured Americans, to be distributed through health clinics and other sites in rural and underserved communities.
But for consumers who do have insurance, the White House approach will require some legwork. It left some health policy experts questioning why the United States does not purchase tests on behalf of all Americans and provide them at little to no cost, as some European countries have done. Instead, Americans will have to purchase tests and then submit the receipts for reimbursement.
The recent surge in hospitalizations and the arrival of the Omicron variant prompted the Biden administration to try to expand testing availability and improve affordability. The new approach probably rests on expedience, said Andy Slavitt, a former adviser to the White House on coronavirus policy.
“From the standpoint of test makers, this takes away the risk of manufacturing, which should help bring costs down,” he said. “They can quantify the market now.”
If consumers with private coverage are able to navigate the reimbursement process, and use their health plans to pay for Covid tests, that could lead to an unintended consequence: higher prices.
“If the consumer is thinking, ‘I will get reimbursed,’ they won’t really care about the price,” said Ge Bai, a professor of health policy at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. “The rule is meant to help promote testing, but it also instills inefficiency into the system.”
Antonio Guterres, the secretary general of the United Nations, has been a vocal critic of the inequity in Covid-19 vaccine distribution. Last month, after the worldwide death toll hit 5 million, he railed at how wealthy countries were “rolling out third doses” while most of the world’s poor remained unvaccinated.
At the annual General Assembly in September, Mr. Guterres described the vaccine disparity as an “obscenity” and said the global community should give itself an F in ethics. He reiterated those views on Wednesday after a meeting with the chairman of the African Union Commission, Moussa Faki Mahamat.
So it was with great reluctance that Mr. Guterres opted to get a booster himself, his spokesman, Stephane Dujarric, said Thursday, describing his boss as having “agonized over making that decision.”
It is not as though Mr. Guterres is unqualified to receive a third shot. On the contrary, Mr. Dujarric said, at age 72 and with an underlying blood pressure issue, Mr. Guterres is among the category of people that medical experts say should be among the first to get a booster.
With his frequent travels and public appearances, Mr. Dujarric said, the secretary general’s physicians and family — including a daughter who is a doctor — had been pressuring him to accept the extra protection.
And now, with the emergence of the highly mutated Omicron variant, even public-health experts who had opposed booster shots have started to reconsider, reasoning they may offer an effective defense.
Initially vaccinated in New York in January and February with the Moderna vaccine, Mr. Guterres, a Portuguese statesman who is serving his second five-year term as the U.N.’s leader, received the third shot last Friday.
“And I can tell you that this has been a very difficult decision for him,” Mr. Dujarric said at a daily briefing in response to questions about whether Mr. Guterres had received a booster. “There was a lot of back-and-forth within his own mind as to whether or not he should get it. I spoke to him at length about it this morning.”
Mr. Guterres also was “fully aware of the symbolism of the secretary general getting a third shot while the global vaccine situation is as horrendous as it is,” Mr. Dujarric said.
Still, he said, given that Mr. Guterres intends to do more traveling, and “given his age and given his function and his responsibilities as secretary general, he decided that getting the booster would be the responsible thing to do.”
The Los Angeles Lakers star LeBron James has been cleared to play in the team’s game against the Los Angeles Clippers on Friday after a false positive coronavirus test landed him in the N.B.A.’s health and safety protocols earlier this week, the league said in a news release.
After initially testing positive on Tuesday, James returned two negative tests, 24 hours apart, administered by league officials. That enabled him to be taken out of the league’s health and safety protocols, according to the league.
In keeping with their enhanced coronavirus protocols after Thanksgiving, N.B.A. officials collected a sample to test on Monday and received a positive result on Tuesday. They used another instrument to test the same sample, and that test returned an inconclusive result. Consequently, James was placed into the league’s health and safety protocols.
James had been with the Lakers in Sacramento, where they were set to play the Kings on Tuesday night. The team arranged for a medical plane to take James back to Los Angeles, according to a person familiar with James’s situation.
James’s teammates were concerned about him.
“Scary situation,” the Lakers’ Anthony Davis said. “He said he’s good. I think he said he was asymptomatic, which is a good sign, but we want to make sure he gets back. Health is most important. It’s bigger than basketball. He has a family.”
Despite testing positive, James never believed he had the coronavirus and consulted a doctor who conducted multiple P.C.R. tests at James’s home that were all negative, according to the person familiar with James’s situation.
James posted a tweet on Wednesday that included five emojis of fish, including one hanging from a fishing hook. Many interpreted the tweet as implying he thought something unusual was happening with his coronavirus testing.
James said before the season that he was vaccinated against Covid-19. Vaccinated players have been tested much less often than unvaccinated players this season. But given the higher chance players might have been exposed to the virus during Thanksgiving gatherings, the N.B.A. increased testing requirements for vaccinated players, according to a memo obtained by The New York Times. All players were required to be tested on Nov. 28, 29 and 30.
The false positive caused James to miss the Lakers’ game Tuesday against the Kings — the 12th game he has missed this season. He has missed 10 games because of injuries and one because of a suspension.
SAN FRANCISCO — For two years, San Franciscans have been pandemic poster children. When Covid-19 hit, the city was among the first in the nation to declare a state of emergency.
Masks have been de rigueur since April 2020. The vaccination rate is among the world’s highest. When the wildly popular In-N-Out Burger stand at Fisherman’s Wharf refused to ask customers for proof of inoculation, the city shut down its indoor dining. “In-N-Out(side),” the city public health department scolded via tweet.
No matter: On Wednesday, as health authorities confirmed that the Omicron variant of the coronavirus had arrived in the United States, the first known case was in San Francisco. The infected person, who authorities said was self-isolating and participating in aggressive contact tracing, had noticed symptoms after returning from South Africa, where the variant was first identified.
Now the city that has led the nation in coronavirus caution is preparing to hunker down. Again. Maybe harder.
“We were thinking of maybe traveling again in the spring,” sighed Linda Wollman, 67, a retiree who has not seen her European relatives since the pandemic started, and who has avoided crowds, restaurants and anyone who is unvaccinated, except her 15-month-old grandson.
“Now I guess we’ll just lay low. Or lay lower. If that’s at all possible.”
Health officials braced for pandemic fatigue across the country this week as word spread that the new variant had reached California, with the inevitability of cases being identified elsewhere.
By Thursday morning, a second case was reported in Minnesota, in a resident who had recently traveled to an anime convention in New York, suggesting that the variant already had begun to circulate.
First identified in Botswana and South Africa, this new iteration of the coronavirus has prompted concern among scientists and public health officials because of an unusually high number of mutations that have the potential to make the virus more transmissible and less susceptible to existing vaccines.
Here is a look at what we know — and don’t — about the variant:
What is Omicron?
The World Health Organization has called Omicron a “variant of concern” and on Monday warned that the global risks posed by it were “very high,” despite what officials described as a multitude of uncertainties. Cases have been identified in 20 countries so far, including Britain, Italy, Belgium and the Netherlands. Although Omicron has not yet been detected in the United States, experts say it is only a matter of time before the variant shows up.
Should we be worried?
Omicron’s discovery has prompted considerable panic across the globe, with a number of countries banning flights from southern Africa, or — like Israel, Japan and Morocco — barring entry of foreign travelers altogether.
But public health experts have urged caution, noting that there is as yet no firm evidence that Omicron is more dangerous than previous variants like Delta, which quickly overtook its predecessors in the United States and other countries.
Much remains unknown about Omicron, including whether it is more transmissible and capable of causing more serious illness. There is some evidence the variant can reinfect people more readily.
There are early signs that Omicron may cause only mild illness. But that observation was based mainly on South Africa’s cases among young people, who are less likely overall to become severely ill from Covid.
Do vaccines protect against Omicron?
Scientists expect to learn much more in the coming weeks. At the moment, they say there is no reason to believe Omicron is impervious to existing vaccines, although they may turn out to be less protective to some unknown degree.
There’s another reason to remain calm: Vaccine makers have expressed confidence they can tweak existing formulations to make the shots more effective against new variants.
Also reassuring: Omicron’s distinctive mutations make it easy to quickly identify with a nasal swab and lab test.
The Omicron variant could become the dominant version of the coronavirus in Europe in the next few months, the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control said on Thursday, as the continent faced a surge of new infections and deaths that has prompted many governments to tighten restrictions.
The European Union’s infectious disease agency acknowledged in a report that there were “a number of uncertainties” related to the Omicron variant, including how transmissible it is, how likely it is to cause severe symptoms and how effective existing vaccines are against it. But preliminary data already suggests that Omicron, which carries a large number of mutations compared with the original virus, has a “substantial advantage” over previous versions of the virus, the agency said.
Combating the rise of Omicron requires a multilayered approach, including initial vaccinations, booster shots for people over 40, physical distancing and ventilation of indoor spaces, according to Andrea Ammon, the agency’s director. Ms. Ammon cautioned against using blanket travel bans like those recently imposed by many European nations, and said that officials should instead maintain “carefully considered” rules for travelers, including testing, quarantining and sequencing of virus cases, and review those measures regularly.
Speaking to reporters on Wednesday, Ursula von der Leyen, the president of the European Commission, called on the bloc’s member governments to speed up vaccinations and booster shots. As more European countries consider making Covid-19 vaccination mandatory, Ms. von der Leyen said it was “understandable and appropriate” for such mandates to be discussed.
Greece said on Thursday that it had confirmed a case of the Omicron variant in a man who arrived on the island of Crete from South Africa on Nov. 26. Health Minister Thanos Plevris told reporters that the man was isolating while the authorities carry out contact tracing. Regulations announced on Wednesday to make Covid vaccinations mandatory for residents ages 60 and over, with fines for noncompliance, were approved by parliament on Thursday.
The Catalonia and Valencia regions of Spain, which together account for more than one-quarter of the country’s population, will require proof of vaccination to enter bars, restaurants gyms and some other venues starting on Friday. The requirement is being challenged in court in those regions, and faces opposition in some other parts of the country as well. The leader of the Madrid region, Isabel Diaz Ayuso, has promised residents that they will not need to show proof of vaccination there.
Officials in India confirmed that they had found the Omicron variant in the southern state of Karnataka, in two people who tested positive for the coronavirus after overseas air travel. Details of the cases, including the dates when the people were tested and the places they had been, were not immediately disclosed. Officials said that both people experienced mild symptoms and later tested negative.
An additional seven cases of the Omicron variant have been found in England, Britain’s Health Security Agency confirmed on Thursday, bringing the total number of known cases of the variant in England to 29. A further three cases have also been identified in Scotland, bringing the total there to 13. Those who have tested positive and their contacts are all isolating, the health agency said, and work is being done to determine if they had any links to travel.