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NYC Health Chief Reinstates Indoor Public Mask Advisory As Omicron Concerns Grow

Mask up again, NYC health commish urges.
Mask up again, NYC health commish urges. Photo Credit: Matteo Jorjoson on Unsplash

New York City's health chief "strongly" recommended Monday that everyone wear masks in indoor public settings at all times -- regardless of their vax status -- as concerns grows over the newest mutated strain of COVID.

"Like at your grocery or in building lobbies, offices and retail stores,” Dr. David Chokshi, commissioner of the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, told reporters. “When you’re indoors, regardless of whether you’re fully vaccinated or not, everyone should be wearing a mask."

It's not a mandate -- just an advisory at this point.

Theaters, restaurants, clubs and other public venues in Manhattan have kept vaccinations and mandatory mask requirements in place since the city began reopening.

New York City hasn't had any reported cases of the omicron variant yet, but Chokshi said it's just a matter of days before it most likely turns up.

The World Health Organization this weekend warned of a “very high” global risk with a high likelihood of further transmission from omicron, which it called the “variant of concern.”

Researchers in South Africa first identified omicron.

The United States and members of the European Union quickly reinstated travel restrictions, prohibiting visitors from southern African nations. Japan, Israel and Morocco, meanwhile, suspended the entry of all foreign travelers.

Two reported cases of the omicron variant in Ontario, Canada -- the first in North America -- heightened concerns in New York.

"Omicron is just across the bridge in Ontario," New York Gov. Kathy Hochul warned. "It’s not a question of if it comes to New York, but when."

Whether or not the variant is more dangerous that other versions of COVID hasn't been established.

“We still have a lot to learn about the omicron variant,” Chokshi tweeted. “But its emergence lends urgency to the importance of the precautions we’ve all become familiar with – particularly vaccination, masking and testing.

"Delta remains the dominant strain – about 98% of sequenced specimens," he added. "We do anticipate detecting omicron in the coming days, based on what we know about its global spread.”

New COVID infections have been increasing in New York City at a rate of roughly 1,400 reported each day, according to Chokshi's office.

The numbers have particularly risen among young children in New York City in recent weeks, the commissioner said, while urging parents to get their kids vaccinated as soon as possible.

Chokshi also recommended that anyone who traveled or gathered during Thanksgiving get a COVID test.

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