New York governor Kathy Hochul (D.) on Friday declared a state of emergency to prepare for the COVID-19 Omicron variant.
The emergency order, which will be in place until at least January 15, is intended to increase hospital capacity in the state in the event that the winter season and the new variant bring a surge in cases.
The order will allow the state to use a “surge and flex system,” enabling the Department of Health to limit non-essential and non-urgent hospital procedures in situations where a hospital has less than 10 percent staffed bed capacity. The new policy takes effect on December 3.
“We’ve taken extraordinary action to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and combat this pandemic,” Hochul said in a statement. However, we continue to see warning signs of spikes this upcoming winter, and while the new Omicron variant has yet to be detected in New York State, it’s coming.”
“In preparation, I am announcing urgent steps today to expand hospital capacity and help ensure our hospital systems can tackle any challenges posed by the pandemic as we head into the winter months,” the Democratic governor added. “The vaccine remains one of our greatest weapons in fighting the pandemic, and I encourage every New Yorker to get vaccinated, and get the booster if you’re fully vaccinated.”
Hochul’s announcement came on the same day that President Biden imposed a travel ban on eight African countries beginning Monday in response to the Omicron variant. The strain has been detected in Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique, and Malawi. The ban followed an announcement by the World Health Organization that the variant has a “large number of mutation” some of which are “concerning.”