Gov. Kathy Hochul on Thursday night announced the first confirmed cases of the COVID-19 omicron variant in New York state.
Her team said, “So far, the five cases appear unrelated and have been confirmed through sequencing of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. One case is from Suffolk County with a history of travel to South Africa. The individual was asymptomatic while traveling home and after returning became symptomatic. Sequencing performed at the Pandemic Response Lab (PRL) confirmed the presence of the omicron variant. The other four cases are New York City residents. Two cases from Queens and one from Brooklyn were confirmed at PRL, while the other case, whose borough of residence is still being determined, was confirmed by the New York City Public Health Lab.”
Hochul said, "As I've said since we first became aware of the emergence of the omicron variant and said earlier today, it was only a matter of time before it was detected here in New York state. I want to thank Mayor de Blasio and his team for working closely with us in this effort to detect the omicron variant and for our joint pandemic efforts. I also want all New Yorkers to know that we are prepared for this and will continue to communicate openly with New Yorkers as we work closely with our partners at the national, state and local level. Thanks to the life-saving tools at our disposal, like vaccines and boosters, we have the tools in our arsenal to fight this pandemic – including the delta and omicron variants. I urge every New Yorker to take the necessary steps to keep themselves and their communities safe: Get vaccinated, get boosted and wear a mask."
These New York state cases come after Hochul's morning announcement, alongside Health Commissioner Dr. Mary T. Bassett, that the omicron variant had been detected in a Minnesota resident who spent time in New York City at a recent anime convention at the Javits Center. The governor and health commissioner urged anyone who attended to get tested for COVID-19. These cases are believed to be unrelated to that convention.
"As I said earlier today at the governor's briefing, the most important advice we can give New Yorkers at this time is to get vaccinated, get a booster shot if you are already vaccinated and wear your mask," Bassett said. "We urge the public not to panic, as we are still learning more about this variant and are prepared to handle it. Labs across New York state, including our world-renowned public health lab, the Wadsworth Center, have ramped up sequencing efforts to detect and study the omicron variant, and we will continue to work with our premier public health experts to protect New Yorkers."
New York State Department of Health's Wadsworth Center Laboratory continues to actively monitor COVID-19 virus samples selected throughout the state to compare sequences and identify circulating and new variants, including omicron. The NYSDOH also monitors all data submitted to public sequence databases by the many other sequencing laboratories throughout New York and across the U.S., contributing to a robust and collaborative surveillance program for variant analysis.
The Wadsworth Center is currently sequencing COVID-19 virus specimens with a capacity up to approximately 100 per day. Specimens are selected at random from throughout the state to provide surveillance across all geographic locations and data analyzed across the entire sequence of the virus. The analyses include assessment for mutations that indicate variants of concern and variants of interest.
Other laboratories in New York are conducting similar work. These results from Wadsworth and other laboratories are uploaded into public databases, primarily GISAID. From this database, sequence data from all contributors can be downloaded and analyzed for a more complete picture of virus trends across the state and the distribution of variants from these analyses summarized over time. The state has made this data available for all New Yorkers at their COVID-19 Variant Page.