Gathering for holidays? Consider most vulnerable, health commissioner says


New Yorkers who are holding holiday gatherings should consider the potential effect it could have on the most vulnerable person, state Health Commissioner Dr. Mary Bassett said Friday in an interview with Capital Tonight. 

Potentially vulnerable people include older adults, as well as children under 5 who do not yet qualify to be vaccinated. 

“Just look at it from the perspective of the person who is most vulnerable who would be at risk of having severe disease if they got infected,” Bassett said, adding, “We’re not regulating what people do in their homes.”

Health officials are urging New Yorkers to take precautions as the omicron variant has started to rapidly spread around the state, leading to a sharp spike in cases. State officials on Friday reported 21,027 new COVID-19 cases — the most since testing became widely available. 

Concerns over the variant has led Gov. Kathy Hochul to require masks indoors unless a business requires people to show proof of vaccination. 

“We’re not in a state of panic about the omicron variant,” Bassett said. “We had advanced notice and we have tools that we didn’t have when the original COVID virus arrived.” 

And those tools include vaccinations, as well as booster shots. Preliminary data has shown the omicron variant to be highly contagious, but potentially more mild, especially for those who are either fully vaccinated or have received their booster shots. 

“We want people who aren’t vaccinated to get vaccinated,” Bassett said. “We want people who are fully vaccinated to get the booster. If the omicron variant is encouraging people to do that, all the better.” 

The increase in COVID-19 cases comes as people are gathering for the holiday season as well, with Christmas next week and New Year’s Eve days later. Bassett, who took over as the state’s top health official last month, said New Yorkers should be cautious, especially if a person with health needs is attending. 

“Think about how you’re going to protect that person,” she said. “That may you want to make sure everyone around is vaccinated. That maybe you may want to make it a really small, people-who-we-know gathering.”

For now, there are 3,839 people who have been hospitalized with COVID-19 in the state. There are at least 32 hospitals in New York that have limited elective surgeries and procedures as a result of a staffed bed shortage, and officials are evaluating those facilities on a weekly basis. 



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