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Experts Tell CBS2 Though Omicron Variant Appears Less Severe, Now Is Not The Time To Be Complacent

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- There is some good news in the fight against the Omicron variant. Statewide positive cases have gone down.

On Christmas Eve, COVID-19 cases hit a record high of more than 49,000 in a single day, but for the first time in more than a week the number of positives has dipped. On Christmas Day, the number of cases dropped to more than 36,000.

CBS2's Kiran Dhillon has more on what top health officials are saying about the new variant.

FIND TESTING SITES: Click here for New York City's testing site locator, including mobile sites and at-home appointments

As Omicron cases soar, experts said on Sunday that even though new data appears to show the variant may be less severe for the vaccinated, now is not the time to be complacent.

"When you have such a high volume of new infections, it might override a real diminution in severity," Dr. Anthony Fauci said.

Dr. Ashish Jha, the dean of Brown University School of Public Health, agrees, saying of great concern is how Omicron will impact the unvaccinated.

"That's the group that's gonna end up in the hospital. That's the group going to end up in an ICU," Jha said.


Jha said because Omicron is producing mild symptoms in the vaccinated, going forward, the rate of hospitalization rather than the number of cases will be the most important metric to focus on to assess the seriousness of the variant.

The concerns come amid a busy holiday season.

AVOID THE LINES: Click here for NYC Health+Hospitals testing wait times

Manhattan pediatrician Dr. Dyan Hes recommends anyone who is seeing a vulnerable loved one to get a rapid test first, and if you feel you've been exposed to the virus, test immediately and then again within the next three to five days.

"If you're symptomatic, if you have flu-like symptoms, assume for now that you have COVID until proven otherwise, because it is so endemic in New York City right now," Hes said.

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Meanwhile, testing remains an issue. At the Clear 19 Rapid Testing location on Broadway on Sunday, annoyed tourists waited hours for a rapid test. This after many spent hundreds of dollars on a test.

"That's the punishment to travel right now," one person said.

"I'm very frustrated. I can't exactly say I am surprised," another said.

Many people that spoke to CBS2 said they want to see more testing sites open in the city as soon as possible. In turn, the city announced seven new testing sites will open on Monday -- one in the Bronx, two in Brooklyn, one in Manhattan, two in Queens, and one on Staten Island.


Experts said the greatest protection from serious illness remains the vaccine and the booster shot.

READ MORECOVID-19 Omicron Variant Fact Or Fiction: CBS2's Dr. Max Gomez Has Answers To Common Questions

Starting Monday in New York City, about 184,000 private sector businesses will need to verify their workers' proof of vaccination.

There are health and religious exemptions.

And some schools in New York are responding to the surge by offering students the option of remote learning when they return after winter break.

CBS2's Kiran Dhillon contributed to this report. Editor's note: This story was first published Dec. 26.

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