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NYC 'Strongly Recommends' Masks In Public Indoor Spaces, As Omicron Variant Reaches North America

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- New York state and city leaders are taking action to prepare for the Omicron variant.

Gov. Kathy Hochul tweeted Monday, saying it's "not a question of if it comes to New York, but when."

"Omicron is just across the bridge in Ontario. It's not a question of if it comes to New York, but when," the governor posted. "To everyone who has not yet been vaccinated, and especially those in Western New York: There's no reason to wait. Get vaccinated."

During her afternoon press briefing, Hochul said the state is monitoring the situation around the world.

"We are not defenseless, like we were one year ago," she said.

She urged New Yorkers to get vaccinated and then get their booster shots.

Mayor Bill de Blasio echoed the governor, saying while there are no cases in the city, the variant could arrive in the coming days.

"Our health leadership has been in constant touch with federal authorities and state authorities, everyone sharing information," he said. "We're going to fight back Omicron and, most immediately, continue fighting the Delta variant. That's actually the challenge we're dealing with here and now."

WATCH: CBS2's Dr. Max Gomez Discusses The Omicron Variant

Health Commissioner Dr. Chokshi issued a mask advisory Monday, "strongly recommending" New Yorkers to wear masks at all times when inside in public settings. He said that includes people who are vaccinated or those who had already had COVID.

"Like at your grocery, in building lobbies, offices and retail stores," he said.

New Yorkers are taking the latest COVID concerns in stride.

"We've had so many variants pass through so many times it's hard to know which ones to really, really get scared really about," said Sunnah Rashid of East Williamsburg.

When asked if she is concerned about it, Julie Marriott said, "No, because there's way worse things in the world than this."

As for face coverings, "I think it's fine to wear a mask in a public place, shopping mall, grocery store. I do it anyway, so I'm going to continue to do it," said Kimberly Metzger of the West Side.

"It's a free country, so everybody should have a choice, right?" Lindsay Metzger said.

"I personally think we should still wear the mask inside," another woman said.

Dr. Chokshi also encouraged people to get tested, especially after holiday travel and gatherings.

Mayor-elect Eric Adams joined the mayor and health commissioner for Monday's briefing.

"I believe that we're seeing a clear message being sent to New Yorkers that the vaccine is our most potent weapon," he said. "But our coordination is a close second to that, and we're going to have that coordination."

WATCH: Mayor De Blasio's Daily Briefing On New 'Omicron' Variant 

This comes as nations around the world are racing to prepare, and health experts are learning more about the new variant. Dr. Anthony Fauci says it has a degree of mutations and appears to be highly transmissible.

"The things that we don't know right now is whether the people who do get infected have a severe form of disease or whether it's a light disease, or somewhat the same as Delta," he said.

He said it will take about two weeks to get a good handle on it. However, vaccines seem to provide a degree of protection.

While immediate lockdowns won't be likely, some travel bans are now in place. The U.S. issued one for eight countries in southern Africa, where Omicron was first detected.

Dr. Fauci believes it will buy scientists some time.

"The reason you do a travel ban is not that you think naively that you're going to keep it out, but it buys you a couple of weeks," he said.


While many just had the most normal Thanksgiving since 2019, some fear more travel bans are on the horizon as we head into the holidays.

Lucky for the Ortez family from Queens, they just reunited with the 88-year-old dad from Chile after more than two years.

"It's tough, it's tough, especially when you have loved ones elsewhere," Monica Ortez, of Far Rockaway, said.

De Blasio said he believes a vaccine mandate should be in place for all travelers.

When it comes to the mask advisory, he said it isn't a mandate, because he would rather concentrate efforts on increasing the city's vaccination rate. Right now, 88% of adults have received at least one dose.

The mayor also announced a new vaccine mandate for childcare and early intervention employees. The Dec. 20 deadline is expected to impact 102,000 workers.

CBS2's Dick Brennan and John Dias contributed to this report.


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