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Gov. Hochul Loosens Quarantine Guidelines For Essential Workers As New York Reports 44,000 New COVID Cases

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- Another pandemic record has been broken. More than 44,000 new positive COVID-19 cases were identified in New York State in one day.

The astonishing uptick prompted Gov. Kathy Hochul to loosen quarantine guidelines for essential workers as the state issued another warning about increasing pediatric hospitalizations, CBS2's Carolyn Gusoff reported Friday.

Hochul said things would be better than last Christmas. She urged people to take precautions against the very contagious Omicron variant, while acknowledging the public's fatigue and uncertainty.

As another COVID Christmas closed in, shoppers at Foodtown in Bayside prepared for scaled-back celebrations.


"Normally we would have maybe fifteen people. Now it's going to be six," said Martine Rouzier.

"I was supposed to go oversees to meet my son, a newborn. I haven't met him just yet," another person said.

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

"They're trying to make the best of a bad situation," said Mike Fernandez, general manager of the Foodtown. "There is probably less gathering, which is keeping customers at home."

From New Rochelle to Harlem, lines wrapped around the block as residents hoped to get their hands on a coveted free at-home COVID test kit in time for Christmas.

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

"Everyone's running scared, running to get vaccines. The line's around the corner, everybody's trying to get tested," one person said.

"I'm vaccinated twice but I didn't get my booster yet. So this helps. This helps a lot," said another person.

"It's free. We don't have to go to Amazon," said another.

Watch Gov. Hochul's Friday COVID Briefing

With holiday rituals upended, many scoured the city for a test as holiday hours took effect.

Martinez Irving, who lives in Long Island City, scored the last one at a pop-up site in Astoria.

"Instead of going to the hospital, my partner was there yesterday for seven hours waiting to be tested," Irving said.

But with more people using at-home tests, Mayor Bill de Blasio has not outlined how the city plans to track the results.

"I do think we need to give clear guidance. The at home test kits work well," de Blasio said. "The optimum is to get that PCR test at one of the centers."

Watch Aundrea Cline-Thomas' Report

The numbers are staggering: 360,000 tests in one day, 12.5% positive. Hospitalizations, notably among children, are climbing, too.

The state issued a health advisory citing a four-fold increase in pediatric admissions and reminded parents that children five and up should be vaccinated.

Free at-home tests were handed out at city-run testing sites Friday, which eased some nerves.


"I'm vaccinated twice, but I didn't get my booster yet. So this helps," one person said.

"Yeah, they should've done this sooner. Yes, I imagine it's a logistical nightmare for everyone. Federal government, local government," said Harlem resident Jac Huberman told CBS2's Aundrea Cline-Thomas.

There was also a warning to nursing homes that were devastated during the first wave.

"There is no reason why every, single occupant or someone who works in a nursing home is not vaccinated and is not boosted. But the numbers are not where they should be," Hochul said.

The governor adopted the CDC's guidelines for shortened isolation for fully-vaccinated essential workers. They can now return to work - masked - five days after testing positive if they are asymptomatic and fever-free for 72 hours.

"So these critical services that New Yorkers need, health care, transportation, grocery stores, all the things that we've identified as important, that they can get back to work as soon as it is safe to do so," said Hochul.

In response to the new guidelines, the New York State Nurses Association said, in part, "The guidance is inconsistent with proven science, vague and doesn't provide definitions or explain standards at a time when decision-making for health care systems is critical."

Political leaders and health experts say Omicron does not appear to pose a severe risk to those who are vaccinated and boosted. Those who are unvaccinated have a much greater risk of getting seriously ill.

As for sorely needed state testing sites, more will open next week. There was no mention if those mass, drive-thru sites from 2020 will make a comeback.

CBS2's Aundrea Cline-Thomas contributed to this report.

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