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Onondaga County plans to give away at-home tests and masks to combat omicron variant

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Tom Magnarelli
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WRVO Public Media File Photo

Onondaga County officials say they are prepared to transition to the next stage of the pandemic. County Executive Ryan McMahon is expecting the omicron variant to dominate new cases of the coronavirus within the next few weeks. He figures the quick-moving virus combined with the holidays will pack a punch.

“We just need to prepare ourselves mentally, that we’re gonna see some high numbers but we’re gonna do everything possible, and we’ve planned and prepared for this,” McMahon said during a briefing Tuesday.

To help identify the virus, the county will give out 20,000 two-pack quick antigen tests next week, along with free KN-95 masks. McMahon is asking local governments to help.

“We’ve asked for their partnership in distribution of these test kits to the public based off of need. Need meaning health, or socioeconomic, in specific distribution sites,” he said.

The federal and state governments are also planning to give out free at-home tests. McMahon said the proliferation of these could impact what kind of testing the county is currently offering. It’s added extra locations and times for quick tests this week, but how that plays out with more at-home tests in people’s hands is unclear.

“We don’t know what’s going to happen with these at-home test kits. We’re going to learn,” he said. “The idea being we identify the virus, you know you’re sick, you do the right thing and you stay home."

McMahon announced 351 new cases in the county Tuesday, 129 county residents currently hospitalized. He said the omicron variant accounts for about 10% of new cases right now, but it is expected to become the dominant strain in the next few weeks.

Ellen produces news reports and features related to events that occur in the greater Syracuse area and throughout Onondaga County. Her reports are heard regularly in regional updates in Morning Edition and All Things Considered.