Health Care

Five omicron cases detected in New York

Gov. Kathy Hochul announced the discoveries on Thursday evening.

Gov. Kathy Hochul and Acting State Health Commissioner Dr. Mary T. Bassett give an update on the Omicron variant in New York.

Gov. Kathy Hochul and Acting State Health Commissioner Dr. Mary T. Bassett give an update on the Omicron variant in New York. Kevin P. Coughlin/Office of Gov. Kathy Hochul

At least five New Yorkers have tested positive for the omicron variant of the coronavirus, Gov. Kathy Hochul announced late Thursday, hours after she said that the state had not yet detected any cases.

A 67-year-old Long Island woman, who recently traveled to South Africa where the variant was first discovered, is the first person identified by the state to have tested positive for the new COVID-19 strain in New York, Hochul said at a joint press briefing with New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio. It’s unclear if the woman was fully vaccinated. The case was detected at a lab in Suffolk County.

The woman had mild symptoms, including a headache and a cough, Hochul said. She initially tested negative for COVID-19 in South Africa before traveling back to the U.S. on Nov. 25. She tested positive for the coronavirus on Nov. 30 at a Northwell Health facility, and the sample was sent to a lab for genomic sequencing.

“There is some vaccination history. We don’t know if it’s one vaccination, two, or a booster shot, and that information will be shared with the public as soon as we receive it,” Hochul said Thursday evening.

Two additional omicron cases in individuals whose vaccination status is unknown were discovered in Queens. A Brooklynite is the fourth person to test positive for the omicron variant in New York. Hochul did not provide details about the fifth case, except that the individual is “another suspected traveler.”

The five cases appear to be unrelated, Hochul said.

The omicron variant, which was first discovered in the U.S. on Wednesday in San Francisco, has been identified as a “variant of concern” by the World Health Organization, which has said that it poses a “very high” global risk. However, little is known about its transmission rate, severity and resistance to the COVID-19 vaccines. 

Hochul acknowledged the information gap, but said there is “no cause for alarm.”

“We knew this was coming,” she said. “We don’t have more information at this time, but we suspect there will be more cases emerging. And the best thing that everyone can do is realize we’re not defenseless against this variant at all,” she said, urging more New Yorkers to get vaccinations and booster shots. 

At an earlier press conference on Thursday, Hochul said no omicron cases had been detected in New York, but announced a Minnesota man who attended an anime event at the Javits Center between Nov. 18 and 22 had contracted the variant.