ALBANY, N.Y. — New York Gov. Kathy Hochul defended her response to the COVID-19 pandemic on Friday, insisting that the state acted early and did all it could against the omicron variant’s rapid spread.

“This [omicron] is a very, very contagious variant,” Hochul said.

The state Health Department on Friday reported a record-high 44,431 new COVID-19 cases recorded in a 24-hour period, as officials continued to scramble to respond to a boom in demand for testing.

In addition to omicron, the governor said increased demand on testing has led to more confirmed cases.

Hospitalizations are also up, however, not nearly to the levels seen during the 2020 holiday season surge, when COVID vaccines were not widely available. The state reported over 4,700 hospitalizations on Friday, compared to around 7,000 this time last year, according to the governor.

In an effort to address staffing shortages at hospitals and other essential businesses, Hochul announced on Friday that the state would adopt new CDC guidance that shortens the amount of time essential workers must stay home after testing positive.

Fully vaccinated people in health care and other front-line fields can return to work after five days instead of 10, as long as they’re not showing symptoms or if their symptoms are resolving. They must also wear masks on the job. Some Republican officials have called the mask mandate an overreach.

While crippling statewide shutdowns have been avoided, record-breaking daily new case numbers across the state and in New York City prompted a swift response from city officials and the entertainment industry

Several Broadway shows canceled or suspended performances and the Rockettes ended their holiday season early. The New Year’s Eve celebration in Times Square has also been scaled back — another blow to the city’s struggling tourism industry.