Photo Credit: Marc Gronich
Governor Kathy Hochul

New York Governor Kathy Hochul declared a “state of emergency” in the state this weekend as the number of coronavirus cases begins to spike and in anticipation of the possible emergence of the new “highly transmissible” COVID-19 B.1.1.529 variant, Omicron.

Hochul said she made the move in order to boost hospital capacity and address staffing shortages ahead of potential spikes of COVID-19 this winter.

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US National Coronavirus Czar Dr. Anthony Fauci said in an interview Saturday on the “Today” show that even though the Omicron variant has not yet been detected in the country, he would not be surprised if it does, in fact, already exist there.

“We don’t know that yet, but you have to be careful and assume that that’s the case,” Fauci said. “It also has a bunch of mutations that would suggest it could evade the protection, for example, of monoclonal antibodies and perhaps even convalescent plasma for people who’ve been infected and recovered and possibly vaccine. These are all ‘maybes,’ but the suggestion is enough,” he added.

The COVID-19 Omicron variant has already been found in the UK, Belgium, Germany, Italy, Hong Kong and Israel, in addition to most of the countries on the central and southern African continent.

An Executive Order signed by the governor allows the Department of Health to limit non-essential, non-urgent procedures for in-hospitals or systems with limited capacity to protect access to critical health care services. Limited capacity is defined as below 10 percent staffed bed capacity, or as determined by the Department of Health based on regional and health care utilization factors.

The new protocols are set to begin on Friday, December 3, and will be re-assessed based on the latest COVID-19 data on January 15. The Executive Order will also enable New York State to acquire more quickly any critical supplies to combat the pandemic, Hochul’s office said.

“We’ve taken extraordinary action to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and combat this pandemic. However, we continue to see warning signs of spikes this upcoming winter, and while the new Omicron variant has yet to be detected in New York State, it’s coming,” Hochul said in a statement issued Friday (Nov. 26).

“In preparation, I am announcing urgent steps today to expand hospital capacity and help ensure our hospital systems can tackle any challenges posed by the pandemic as we head into the winter months. The vaccine remains one of our greatest weapons in fighting the pandemic, and I encourage every New Yorker to get vaccinated, and get the booster if you’re fully vaccinated,” she said.

Steps to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in the state include mask protocols in health care and P-12 school settings, correctional facilities and detentions centers, public transportation and at transportation hubs, and implementation of the HERO Act which requires all employers to implement workplace safety plans in response to COVID-19.

The state is continuing to focus on boosting vaccination rates among New Yorkers, including bolstering the network of vaccine access points, and working to expand testing supplies.

“That also includes acting on our comprehensive plan to vaccinate school-aged children 5-17, provide incentive programs, combat vaccine misinformation campaigns, increase vaccine awareness, deploy pop-up vaccines in targeted low-vaccination areas, and implement vaccine requirements for health care workers,” Hochul’s office said.

As of November 24, over 2.2 million boosters and/or additional doses had been administered. Nearly 4,500 locations across are administering booster shots.

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Hana Levi Julian is a Middle East news analyst with a degree in Mass Communication and Journalism from Southern Connecticut State University. A past columnist with The Jewish Press and senior editor at Arutz 7, Ms. Julian has written for Babble.com, Chabad.org and other media outlets, in addition to her years working in broadcast journalism.