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Omicron variant: what should New York be concerned about?

As people across the globe continue to get vaccinated and now boosted as an effort to return to normalcy, the pandemic reminds us that it is far from over yet. Not only is there the threat of a COVID resurgence amid the holiday season, but now there is a new variant on the rise: Omicron. Although there is still much to learn about Omicron, here is what New Yorkers need to know and why we should remain concerned about the everlasting pandemic.

Omicron is the newest and possibly strongest variant of COVID-19 reported this year. It has been deemed by the World Health Organization (WHO) as a Variant of Concern (VOC) due to the difference in mutations from the dominant Delta variant that create more distress from the overall lack of knowledge and education on COVID-19. The first reported case of Omicron was in South Africa on November 24th, 2021. As of now, WHO has not identified how the variant may have started beyond its location of origin, but they have determined that Omicron has spread to other countries outside of South Africa, such as Nigeria, Hong Kong, the United Kingdom, Canada, and the United States, among many others not listed. 

As of December 1st, New York Governor Kathy Hochul reported that there are 5 confirmed cases of Omicron in New York State. Among these reported cases, it has been confirmed that there is one case in Suffolk County, Queens, Brooklyn, and New York City. The case reported in Suffolk County is from a woman in her late 60’s who just recently returned from South Africa and may have only received one dose of the vaccine. This is possibly the cause of her being susceptible to the variant. The other reported cases of the variant have no confirmed vaccination statuses, but all cases across the country are non-life threatening (as of now). Additionally, on December 10th, Gov. Hochul announced that she will be reinstating a mask mandate across NY for all indoor public spaces that do not require proof of vaccination. According to NBC News, NYS for the first time since January of this year has had over 50 COVID deaths along with an 86% surge in hospitalizations since last month. 

It is predicted that the hospitalization and death rates related to COVID-19 will continue to rise due to the continued unrestricted holiday season travel across state and national borders. As previously reported by The Knight News in the article, Holidays in the era of COVID-19, by Raveena Nabi, the holidays season caused a major spike in hospitalizations and cases to the point of overcrowding ICUs across the country and the globe. Although vaccinations were unavailable and nonexistent at the time of this report, the goal of these continued preventative measures in NY is to avoid another surge of COVID-19 and eventually end this pandemic for good. With the availability of getting vaccinated and boosted being easily accessible throughout the US, especially NY, it is highly encouraged for all Americans, specifically New Yorkers, to be protected against the COVID-19 variants that US health officials are still determining its severity. 

As of now, there is only a reason for raising awareness and concern of the variant, as there is still much to learn. By following the precautionary measures that have been stated since the beginning of the pandemic, we can avoid another stay-at-home order along with a mass shut down. If you find yourself in need of getting tested for Omicron, it is recommended by WHO that a PRC test is better than receiving a rapid test. Here at Queens College, we must hope for the best and stay mindful that our Spring 2022 semester is still subject to change from in-person to hybrid due to Omicron and the overall spread of COVID-19. Stay cautious, get vaccinated, and wear a mask!

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