Every New Yorker regardless of vaccination status is encouraged to wear a mask in indoor public settings, according to a new mask advisory issued Monday by New York City’s health commissioner as concerns about the omicron COVID-19 variant spreads.
"Everyone knows there's still a lot of information we need, and that will take days or even a few weeks to come in," New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said during a press conference Monday. "But we’re gonna be in a very vigilant state in the meantime and taking any and all actions as we get facts to support them."
New York City has not identified any cases of omicron so far.
"It is very likely there will be, but there are no cases at this moment," de Blasio said. "Our entire focus once again is going to be on vaccination. Based on everything we know, vaccination is crucial to any strategy for addressing omicron."
The World Health Organization on Monday said omicron poses a "very high" risk globally as questions about the variant remain. Scotland and Portugal identified cases of the new variant and Japan became the latest country to ban all foreign travelers. Israel and Morocco are also banning all foreign travelers.
The strain, first identified last week by researchers in South Africa, carries several genetic mutations that may allow it to spread quickly, according to the WHO.
"This variant did surprise us," Dr. Tulio de Oliveira, the director of the Centre for Epidemic Response & Innovation in South Africa, said at a news conference last week. "But the full significance is still uncertain."
New York City Health Commissioner Dr. David Chokshi urged New Yorkers to seek out current vaccines for first, second, or booster doses.
"It’s natural to feel some anxiety about the variant," Chokshi said. "But the Marie Curie quote — ‘Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood’ — comes to mind."
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