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Health

NYS health commissioner: COVID-19 is increasing at rates never before documented

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Mike Groll
/
Office of the Governor
NYS Health Commissioner Dr. Mary Bassett speaks to the media in Albany Friday, December 17, 2021

Concerns about the spread of the omicron variant of the coronavirus are growing, as the more contagious strain is beginning to take hold in New York.

The state reported more than 22,000 new cases on Saturday, up significantly over the last week, and the highest one-day number since the pandemic began.

The state's health commissioner, Dr. Mary Bassett, said the best defense against the coming wave is vaccinations, including booster shots, and wearing masks in public settings.

Bassett said the science is still “evolving” on omicron, but so far it appears to be very contagious. She said state health officials are seeing a rate of increase that has “never been documented before.”

Bassett said the variant so far is milder than previous forms of the virus, but unvaccinated people are in danger of becoming very ill.

“Now is the time to recognize that we have something new,” Bassett said. “And you may want to change your mind about getting vaccinated.”

People who have not yet received a booster shot are also at more risk of contracting a more serious illness from the omicron variant.

Bassett said she supports Gov. Kathy Hochul’s mandate that stores, restaurants and entertainment venues require either that everyone be masked, or that all patrons provide proof of vaccination. She also said she backs the governor’s decision to not enforce the rules in a heavy-handed manner and that it should be up to individuals and business owners to comply.

“I believe that people want to be safe,” she said. “And that they will take actions to protect themselves, their families and the people that they love.”

The health commissioner said plans are in the works for expanding access to self-testing kits. She said even for vaccinated people there is a “role for testing” if you are spending time with an elderly or physically compromised friend or relative.

Bassett also offered some advice for how to safely approach upcoming home holiday gatherings. She said think about the most vulnerable person in your group. In her case, it’s her 93-year-old mother.

Bassett said she takes a coronavirus test before every visit to her mother.

“We make the plans according to our desire to protect my 93-year-old fully vaccinated and boosted mother,” she said. “Who still might get infected if she is exposed.”