NEW YORK — Now that the first U.S. case of the omicron variant of the coronavirus has been detected in California, health officials in New York said it’s just a matter of time before we begin seeing the variant here.
They also point out that while a lot is not known about the variant, it is clear that vaccination still helps people avoid the worst possible outcomes from it, so leaders at the city, state, and federal levels are all encouraging people to get vaccinated, and to get booster shots.
Regarding New York City’s preparation for omicron cases, Mayor Bill de Blasio said Wednesday that his administration is part of a larger web of information.
“Our health care team [is] in touch with federal authorities and authorities around the world,” the mayor said at his daily briefing, “watching carefully to understand the facts, the data, the science that will determine our next steps in addressing this challenge.”
So far, 28 countries have detected the omicron variant, with the U.S. being added to the map Wednesday afternoon.
Health officials know that the variant is spreading, but there’s a lot still not known.
Dr. Dyan Hes, who, as managing director of Gramercy Pediatrics, has handled COVID cases, said the world’s lack of knowledge about omicron is no cause for alarm, but is a cause for prevention.
“There’s no reason to jump to conclusions,” she said. “There’s no reason not to get the vaccine. Initial studies from Israel are saying that the vaccine is effective to prevent [omicron], so the biggest thing you can do to prevent it from spreading is to get the vaccine.”
Regarding the country’s first case of the variant, detected in San Francisco, the CDC said the individual was fully vaccinated and had mild symptoms.
All close contacts of the patient tested negative, the CDC said.
While the coming omicron cases are definitely something of which to be aware, Mayor de Blasio and his health policy team acknowledged on Wednesday that the variant that’s here is much more daunting.
“We are seeing an uptick in cases of COVID now with the delta variant, before we even talk about omicron,” he said.
Overall, hospitalizations are still relatively low, but at two hospitals in Queens — LIJ Forest Hills and Queens Hospital Center — there are concerns about their capacity approaching 90 percent.
Dr. Teresa Amato, chair of LIJ Forest Hills Hospital’s emergency department, said the capacity concerns are a misunderstanding. She said there’s been confusion in the wake of comments New York Gov. Kathy Hochul has made this week saying that the state is ready to handle high capacity, even though we’re not near it.
“We have 22 hospitals in our health system, and feel very confident that every procedure that we put in place to deal with an uptick, we’ve been able to keep up with demand,” Dr. Amato said.
As for Queens Hospital Center, it’s run by the city’s Health + Hospitals Corporation. Its CEO, Dr. Mitchell Katz, said on Wednesday that when it comes to capacity, Health + Hospitals learned from the depths of the pandemic in 2020.
“In those tough times, we took transfers from other hospitals when necessary,” Katz said. “And we will make sure that we fill in any holes [going forward] so that people get the care they need.”