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New York officials recommend wearing masks indoors in response to Omicron variant

Biden says Omicron "not a cause for panic"
Special Report: Biden says Omicron variant is "cause for concern, not a cause for panic" 19:01

New York's governor and New York City's health commissioner on Monday advised all residents to wear a mask while in public indoor spaces. The recommendations came in response to growing concerns over the Omicron COVID-19 variant. 

"Today, I am issuing a Commissioner's Advisory STRONGLY recommending that all New Yorkers wear a mask AT ALL TIMES when indoors and in a public setting – like at your grocery, building lobbies, offices, and stores," health commissioner Dr. Dave Chokshi tweeted.

A slide recommending indoor mask-wearing was also displayed during a COVID-19 briefing given by Governor Kathy Hochul on Monday.

"Omicron is just across the bridge in Ontario," Hochul said. "It's not a question of if it comes to New York, but when."  

Chokshi also said that there are currently no confirmed cases of the Omicron variant in New York City. "Delta remains the dominant strain – about 98% of sequenced specimens," he said. "We do anticipate detecting Omicron in the coming days, based on what we know about its global spread." 

Officials currently have limited knowledge on the Omicron variant, including whether it is more transmissible or causes more severe illness than other variants. Dr. Anthony Fauci told "CBS Mornings" it will take several weeks for health officials to have more data and specifics on the strain. On Monday, President Joe Biden's travel restrictions for eight southern African countries went into effect, in an attempt to limit the spread. Mr. Biden called the variant a "cause for concern, not a cause for panic."

Chokshi on Monday said that, "Our understanding of Omicron will advance, and we'll be able to adjust our public health strategies accordingly. Until then, let's bring to bear our tried-and-true tools that are already helping us keep COVID-19 at bay."

The health commissioner also recommended that residents continue to get vaccinated and regularly test for COVID-19, especially before and after holiday travel. 

Autumn Activities In New York City
Shoppers cross the street during the 2021 "Black Friday" in Midtown.  John Lamparski 2021 / Getty Images

On Friday, Hochul declared a state of emergency as COVID-19 cases in the state have steadily risen over the past few months. The executive order included plans for "a coordinated approach" to boost hospital capacity and extra supplies ahead of a possible case surge. 

Hochul said Monday that 2,829 people are currently hospitalized in New York State, but officials are expecting an increase in positive cases and hospitalizations following the holiday season. "Mark my words, we're going to see a surge in the next five days," Hochul said.

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