Omicron Covid variant expected to hit New York in 'coming days,' NY health commissioner says

A Covid-19 pop-up testing sits stands on a Manhattan street on October 26, 2021 in New York City.Spencer Platt | Getty Images

The new, highly mutated omicron Covid-19 variant is expected to hit New York state in the “coming days,” the state health commissioner said Thursday.

“We now have an exposure. We fully expect that it will be detected in the coming days.” said Dr. Mary Bassett, who stepped in as the state health commissioner on Wednesday.  Bassett was speaking at a press conference alongside New York Gov. Kathy Hochul after Minnesota officials confirmed a second U.S. omicron case in a local man who had just returned from a convention in New York City.

“There's no question that it will be detected in New York State and in New York City, but it has not yet been detected,” Bassett said.

The Minnesota man, who was fully vaccinated and has since recovered, developed symptoms and was tested shortly after returning from the city to attend the Anime NYC 2021 convention at the Javits Center from Nov. 19 to 21, the department said Thursday.

Anime NYC did not immediately respond to CNBC's request for comment.

Bassett noted that the Wadsworth Center, the state health department's biodefense lab, is continuing to conduct genomic sequencing to identify the omicron variant.

“It is not a problem that Wadsworth is not performing its job. It is simply that [the variant] has not yet been detected,” Bassett said.

On Wednesday, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed the first U.S. case of the variant in Northern California on Wednesday. The individual, who was fully vaccinated, had returned from South Africa to the San Francisco area on Nov. 22 and tested positive on Nov. 29, White House chief medical advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci told reporters Wednesday.

The U.S. joins at least 23 countries across the world that have confirmed cases of omicron. The variant was first identified in Botswana last month and reported to the World Health Organization by South Africa about a week ago. 

Omicron has more than 30 mutations to the spike protein alone, which is the mechanism used by the virus to enter the body. Some of the mutations are associated with higher transmission and a decrease in antibody protection, according to the WHO. 

Some health officials in the U.S. and worldwide fear that the profile of the variant could reduce the effectiveness of current vaccines. However, Fauci told reporters Wednesday that more data is still needed. 

“The molecular profile of the kinds of mutations that you see [in omicron] would suggest that it might be more transmissible and that it might elude some of the protection of vaccines,” Fauci said. “But we don't know that now.”

On Thursday, the Biden announced tightened travel restrictions to and within the U.S. as part of a broader plan to stem the spread of the new variant.

The administration is requiring all in-bound international passengers to test for Covid within 24 hours of departure and extending its mask requirement on all domestic flights and public transportation through March 18.

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