NEW JERSEY (CBSNewYork) -- The first cases of a new Omicron subvariant are beginning to be seen in the Tri-State Area.
They arrived as an Appeals Court prepares to rule on the New York state mask mandate, CBS2's Dick Brennan reported Thursday.
The crucial hearing will be held Friday, as the court will hear more arguments to decide whether to eliminate the state-wide requirement to cover up.
"There are good points and bad points, but I think it's good in general for everybody wear masks," said Nicholas Ng of Massapequa.
"Everybody should do what they feel comfortable doing and if there is a mandate to wear a mask then I will certainly do it," said George Trapp of Hell's Kitchen.
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The showdown on masks comes as a new Omicron subvariant has been detected, raising new fears.
Some scientists worry it could be more contagious, but say there's a lot they still don't know about it, CBS2's Meg Baker reported Thursday.
"They're giving it the name the 'stealth' variant because it's really, really easily transmissible," Dr. Perry Halkitis of Rutgers School of Public Health said.
The latest version of the coronavirus that scientists are calling BA.2 is considered stealthier than the original. It's genetic traits make it harder to detect and more contagious.
"We are putting up all these barriers for virus to transmit, like with vaccines and people having natural immunity and the combination of both," Halkitis said. "As the virus mutates, it's trying to find smarter ways to get in."
It is also harder to classify positive cases of the new variant as Omicron in PCR tests.
"The cause of concern is that it seems to be spreading very fast in some European countries, for example in Denmark, and they're already saying that it could be one and a half times more infectious than the Omicron," Epidemiologist Ayman El-Mohandes, dean of CUNY Graduate School of Public Health, said. "It represents more than half the cases, 60% of the cases. There is no indication that it's more severe than the original Omicron variant."
"As far as I know, it's been diagnosed in Washington state. It's been diagnosed in California and in Texas. But it will not surprise me at all that soon thereafter we will see it all over the country," he added.
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El-Mohandes urged people to use common sense and remain vigilant, wear masks, avoid crowded places and stay home when feeling sick.
These strategies can help protect the most vulnerable, he said, like children younger than five (who are not yet eligible to be vaccinated), older adults and those who are immunocompromised.
Health officials continue to say the best protection from serious illness comes from being fully vaccinated and boosted.
CBS2's Dick Brennan and Meg Baker contributed to this report.
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