New York governor announces state of emergency over omicron COVID variant

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) said Friday that she will declare a state of emergency there in response to the naming of the new omicron variant of COVID-19, which is currently thought to be limited mostly to southern Africa and parts of Europe.

According to Fox News, the state of emergency order, which will take effect Dec. 3, is intended to increase hospital capacity until at least Jan. 15 to handle cases of the new variant. Non-essential and non-urgent hospital procedures could also be limited if the hospital has 10% or less capacity, Fox said.

Vaccines encouraged

About two dozen cases of omicron have been identified in South Africa and two have been identified in the U.K., but the true extent of the spread is unknown. According to Fox, it has also been found in the African nations of Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique, and Malawi.

“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,” Gov. Hochul said in a press release.

“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 added.

“Unusual and mild”

The variant has an unusually high number of mutations, which have prompted concerns that it could elude vaccines and treatments currently being used.

So far, this is just speculation, however, and the variant is too recent to know exactly how it will impact vaccines or natural immunity.

According to Fox, a prominent doctor in South Africa said she has seen “unusual and mild” symptoms so far from the variant, and that many people can just be treated at home for the viral infection.

Markets worried

The announcement of the new variant on Friday prompted a stock market sell-off in the U.S. that saw the first large dip in the markets in a while. At one point, the DOW was down 1,000 points, according to MarketWatch, and it ended the day down more than 900 points.

Previous variants have prompted shutdowns and restrictions that have kept people out of the workforce and hampered economic recovery from last year’s pandemic response-related recession.

In many areas of the U.S., things have begun to return to normal this holiday season, with crowds shopping in person at stores and in-person parties at restaurants and other locations resuming.

The omicron variant could throw us right back into isolating and social distancing if it proves elusive to vaccines and puts the population back at square one.

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