New York confirmed five cases of the omicron variant of the coronavirus on Thursday, bringing the number of states with cases of the troubling strain to five as President Joe Biden announced new measures to combat a winter surge in COVID-19 infections.
New York Gov. Kathy Hochul urged residents not to be alarmed, saying health officials expected the variant to appear in the state and that the cases announced should only serve as a reminder to Americans to get vaccinated and continue social-distancing measures.
“This is not a cause for major alarm,” Hochul said at a news conference alongside New York Mayor Bill de Blasio. “We are in a far better place,” she added, noting: “The best thing everyone can do is to realize we are not defenseless against this variant at all, that vaccines, we know, are going to ensure there is less severe symptoms.”
The state joins Minnesota, Hawaii and Colorado, which have all announced positive cases of the omicron strain after California said Wednesday it had detected the first known strain in the U.S. in a traveler who had recently returned from South Africa. The latest cases bring the total number of known omicron infections in the U.S. to 10.
The omicron variant was first seen in South Africa and Botswana and has prompted concern among researchers who point to its large number of mutations, which could affect its transmissibility or allow it to bypass currently available vaccines.
Researchers are still racing to learn more about the omicron variant, however, and much remains unknown about its capabilities. Officials have warned that the threat of the delta variant, which is highly transmissible, remains, pointing to figures that still show high levels of transmission in many places around the nation.
Biden on Thursday announced a raft of new measures meant to stop the spread of the virus. On Thursday, the president said private health insurers will soon be required to reimburse patients for at-home COVID-19 tests, and he emphasized a strategy to see that all Americans get booster shots of a coronavirus vaccine. The White House also said it would expand family vaccination sites and tighten requirements for international travelers.
“We’re going to fight this variant with science and speed, not chaos and confusion,” Biden said Thursday. “This is a moment we can put the divisiveness behind us, I hope.