Gov. Kathy Hochul said Wednesday that new variants of COVID-19 are spreading in New York, but there is no need to worry.
She also does not expect to introduce new mandates in the near future.
Hochul gave a briefing on coronavirus at State University of New York’s Upstate Medical College in Syracuse. Two new BA.2 sub-variants – BA.2.12 and BA.2.12.1 – have caused infection rates to rise to almost 15% in central New York.
Infection rates are also rising in other parts of the state. Western New York and the Finger Lakes have rates higher than 10%, while the Southern Tier, Mohawk Valley and Capital Region are all approaching a 10% rate.
More than 1,400 people across the state are in the hospital with COVID, and 14 people died of the disease Tuesday.
The governor said that while the new subvariant is more contagious than previous strains, there is no evidence that it is more serious than the original omicron variant that appeared in late 2021.
“We are not panicking about this,” Hochul said. “But we also want to make sure we’re smart about this.”
Hochul said the most important tool to combat the spread is the use of rapid tests at home. And she said people should take the tests if they have symptoms associated with COVID, or may have been exposed to someone who has the disease.
She said the state has collected 92 million test kits and distributed 72 million of them to communities.
Hochul said the results of rapid tests that are positive are no longer being reported to health officials, so the true number of those infected in New York State may be higher than what is currently being recorded.
“There is a gap in the information,” Hochul said. “We do not have a clear picture of exactly what is going on.”
The governor’s advice contrasts with a warning issued by her health commissioner, Dr. Mary Bassett, April 13th. Bassett at the time expressed concern about the spread and recommended that New Yorkers wear masks in all indoor public spaces, regardless of vaccination status.
After the presentation, journalists asked Hochul about the Ministry of Health’s mask recommendation. She said she does not want to introduce new rules, but instead “empower individuals and parents to make smart decisions.”
But Hochul recommends that New Yorkers follow Bassett’s advice.
“Keep a mask in your pocket, and when you’re around other people, we strongly encourage you to pull it out, especially in an area with high transmission,” she said.
Hochul said she does not expect the new sub-variants to cause the infection rate to rise as high as it did during the winter holidays, but admitted that no one can say with certainty what will happen.
“We do not know right now,” she said.