NY hospitals brace for omicron variant patients; Gov. Hochul declares state of emergency

New York hospitals are bracing for the new omicron COVID-19 variant to make its way to the U.S.
Gov. Kathy Hochul declared a state of emergency Friday to prepare for an influx of patients. The variant was first identified in South Africa.
"We've taken extraordinary action to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and combat this pandemic. 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,” Hochul said.
The variant has so far also been identified in Botswana, Hong Kong, Belgium and the U.K.
Experts fear the heavily-mutated variant could be more transmissible and reduce the effectiveness of vaccines.
The executive order, which goes into effect on Dec. 3, will allow the Department of Health to limit nonessential and non-urgent hospital procedures in situations where a hospital has less than 10% staffed bed capacity.
The emergency order is intended to increase hospital capacity in New York.
“The governor is using this opportunity to make sure everybody gets vaccinated, so that if this new variant, for example, comes into the area, that we have as much protection as possible,” says David Battinelli, of Northwell Health.
Hochul's emergency declaration comes after President Joe Biden announced a restriction on travel from South Africa and seven other countries in the region.
Travel agent Matthew Kondrup says the travel restrictions sparked calls from about a dozen clients who've booked trips to South Africa, and others worry that restrictions may extend to other countries.
“We've pushed and really stressed travel insurance…with some the suppliers we deal with, to give them that flexibility, that if they have to and reschedule due to COVID-related or illness-related, that they have that flexibility,” he says.
The new travel restrictions go into effect Monday. They do not apply to U.S. citizens or permanent residents.