City officials push mask-wearing, vaccinations and new mandates as Omicron variant looms

Mayor Bill de Blasio.
Ed Reed/Mayoral Photography Office

City officials are emphasizing coordination and vaccination as they stare down the concerning Omicron variant currently spreading in a dozen countries across the globe. 

Speaking publicly since the international community was first alerted about the omicron variant over the Thanksgiving holiday, Mayor Bill de Blasio urged calm and vigilance — while also issuing a new vaccine mandate for childcare workers. While there have thus far been no omicron cases detected in New York City, officials predicted they would be here within a matter of days. 

“We are very carefully watching the situation,” Mayor de Blasio said. “We’re going to be in a very vigilant state.” 

In sharp contrast from the early days of the pandemic, when former Gov. Andrew Cuomo often acted on his own whims with little coordination with de Blasio, his longtime political rival, the mayor emphasized that his administration was working closely both with Gov. Kathy Hochul’s administration and the incoming Eric Adams mayoral administration as they plot the city’s and state’s next moves in response to the variant. 

Mayor de Blasio told reporters he had spoken with Gov. Hochul early Monday morning, and Mayor-elect Adams appeared with the mayor during his Nov. 29 press briefing. 

“I spoke this morning with Governor Hochul to coordinate city and state efforts, I spoke yesterday at length with our mayor-elect Eric Adams,” de Blasio said. “Everyone focused together on getting all the facts about omicron, making decisions based on the data and the science.” 

Adams joined de Blasio in emphasizing the importance of coordination and dismissed criticisms that his administration would be less stringent in encouraging vaccinations after making comments about ‘revisiting’ vaccine mandates once he was in office. 

“I want to send a clear message: anyone that believes we’re going to play off a different playbook under the next administration of not pursuing vaccines, they need to believe that is not true,” the Brooklyn Borough President said. “We are going to be on the same playbook, we must get vaccinated in a real way, and I am going to continue to advocate that.” 

City officials said they would continue to push vaccinations and especially booster shots as the variant rears its head. Currently, 88 percent of all eligible adults in New York City have received at least one shot of the covid-19 vaccine, while 81 percent of those in the 12—17 age bracket and 16 percent of those age 5—11 have received theirs. 943,000 New Yorkers have received their booster shots, according to City Hall. 

While information is still scant about the omicron variant, it has caused alarm among scientists and the World Health Organization for its apparent potential to evade the antibodies caused by previous covid infections, and its potential for rapid spread. Scientists are also monitoring the variant for any hint that it could undermine the protections provided by vaccination, which should take weeks to be realized, according to Health Department officials.  

Department of Health Commissioner. Dr. Dave Chokshi announced an official commissioner’s advisory for all New Yorkers to mask up in public indoor settings, the city stopped short of an official indoor mask mandate, which Mayor de Blasio credited to the need to emphasize the importance of vaccination over masking. 

“We want to keep the focus on vaccination,” Hizzoner said. “This is the much more important part of the equation.”