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Following reports of new variant, Hochul announces new steps for protection against COVID-19, as summer hospitalizations rise


Tue, Aug 29th 2023 04:20 pm

World-renowned Wadsworth Lab monitoring samples for new BA.2.86 Variant, not yet detected in New York

√ Department of Health contacted nursing home providers to remind them of ‘responsibility to keep residents protected’; state continues to make high-quality N-95 masks and test kits available to state and county officials by request

√ Hochul: All New Yorkers – especially those in high-risk groups – are encouraged to talk to their primary care doctor about updated COVID-19 vaccines coming this fall

Gov. Kathy Hochul has announced new steps the state of New York is taking to protect individuals from COVID-19 following reports of a new variant, BA.2.86. These steps come after COVID-19 hospitalizations in New York increased as the summer progressed. As a reminder, an updated COVID-19 vaccine tailored to guard against certain variants is expected to arrive in pharmacies and doctor’s offices this fall.

“While New Yorkers might want to be done with COVID-19, COVID-19 isn’t done with us,” Hochul said. “With the increase in hospitalizations and reported cases this summer, I strongly urge everyone to take appropriate precautions to protect themselves and their communities. To keep New Yorkers safe, my administration will continue to monitor this situation, share information on the new boosters as soon as it’s available, and continue to make N-95 masks available statewide.”

Earlier this year, the Food and Drug Administration advised vaccine manufactures to develop a new COVID-19 vaccine to target Omicron variants. The new shot is expected to be released by the three major COVID-19 vaccine producers in September. Hochul encourages New Yorkers to monitor the CDC and the New York State Department of Health (DOH) websites frequently for information on updated COVID-19 vaccine administration recommendations.

To protect all New Yorkers, DOH and the Wadsworth Center continue monitoring for and analyzing samples of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, as reports emerge of new strains.

Hochul’s team said, “The ongoing dual surveillance strategies of wastewater surveillance and laboratory clinical analysis, conducted with partners at Syracuse University and across the state, have proven vital to New York state's ability to understand variant spread and the potential impact on public health.

“In response to identifying the new BA.2.86 variant, the Wadsworth Center immediately enhanced early detection efforts in New York state. In conjunction with the collaborators at Syracuse University, analysts searched wastewater data from the last six months to confirm the new strain was not detected in New York. This process will continue to be used to help monitor for the variant in new wastewater samples. Additionally, Wadsworth Center is coordinating with numerous health care professionals across the state and collaborating laboratories to expand the pool of clinical COVID samples submitted for analysis to increase the opportunity for detecting BA.2.86, should it enter the state.”

State Health Commissioner Dr. James McDonald said, "The Department of Health remains vigilant for changes to the virus that could further threaten our public health. We continue to monitor as new strains have emerged, with a particular focus on BA.2.86, the most genetically different strain we have seen since the original Omicron variant. These significant changes are important to note as mutations may allow the virus to evade prior immunity. Remember, COVID is now a treatable disease, and tests are both easy and highly accurate. Antivirals such as Paxlovid are most effective when started within five days of the onset of symptoms."

As students begin to return to school for the next academic year, Hochul and DOH recommend that schools review current CDC school guidance for COVID-19 prevention, and work with their local health department to implement effective and feasible public health measures.

To prevent the spread of COVID-19, the CDC recommends schools:

√ Promote vaccination and testing;

√ Encourage students, teachers and faculty to stay home if they are sick and exhibiting symptoms;

√ Optimize ventilation and maintain improvements to indoor air quality to reduce the risk of germs and contaminants spreading through the air; and

√ Teach and reinforce proper handwashing and hygiene practices.

Hochul’s team said, “Schools that experience outbreaks should work with their local health department for timely outbreak response support. More guidance for schools is available here.

“All individuals who have symptoms of COVID-19 should immediately get tested. If a test is positive, consult a health care provider about treatment, as it's important to begin treatment soon after the onset of symptoms to ensure the utmost effectiveness. Individuals who do not have a regular health care provider can find locations for treatment here. Those with COVID-19 should follow CDC guidance to avoid transmitting it to others, including isolating for five days after the onset of symptoms, as well as masking and avoiding contact with those who may be at higher risk of negative outcomes.

“At-home tests are available at many local pharmacies statewide, and New York continues to make high-quality N-95 masks and test kits available to state and county officials by request. New Yorkers should contact their respective county health department or local emergency management office for more information.

“The New York State Department of Health recently contacted nursing home providers statewide to alert them of the increase in COVID-19 infections reported over the past several weeks, and to remind facilities of measures that can be taken to help reduce transmission among vulnerable populations.”

Individuals who have not yet been vaccinated or are behind on booster doses can find the current COVID-19 vaccine sites here.

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