NYC urges masks, COVID testing ahead of holiday weekend; Broadway extends mask mandate

COVID-19 Update for New York
NEW YORK (WABC) -- New York City has issued a COVID-19 warning ahead of holiday gatherings this weekend, after two new omicron subvariants have been identified as fueling an uptick in cases in the central part of the state.

Health Commissioner Dr. Ashwin Vasan urged residents to mask indoors and get tested before seeing potentially vulnerable family members.

"Holidays are a time of togetherness, love and reflection," he said. "We wish everyone a happy and - most of all - healthy holiday. To stay safe, the Health Department strongly recommends masking in public indoor settings, especially when in groups where other people's vaccination status is unknown. We also strongly recommend people get a COVID test before or after attending any gatherings, and certainly before choosing to remove your mask at a holiday gathering. Encourage your friends and loved ones you will see this weekend to get tested as well before you gather."

To find a testing site or where to obtain an at-home test kit, visit NYC.gov/covidtest or call 311.

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Also Friday, the Broadway League announced the extension of current mask requirement for audiences through at least May 31, 2022, but many will no longer check vaccination status after April 30, 2022.

"Since resuming performances last fall, over five million attendees have seen a Broadway show, and the safety and security of our cast, crew, and audience has been our top priority," Broadway League President Charlotte St. Martin said. "Our intention is that by maintaining strict audience masking through at least the month of May, we will continue that track record of safety for all. And of course, we urge everyone to get vaccinated."

It comes after New York state identified the emergence of two sub linages of the COVID-19 omicron subvariant BA.2, named BA.2.12 and BA.2.12.1, that appear to have a 23% to 27% growth advantage over BA.2.

New York has had a recent surge of infections in the central part of the state, likely fueled by these two new subvariants that are highly contagious, but so far there's no evidence to suggest they cause more severe illness.

Both variants are sub-lineages of BA.2, which now accounts for 80.6% of COVID-19 infections in New York.

"We are alerting the public to two omicron subvariants, newly emerged and rapidly spreading in upstate New York, so New Yorkers can act swiftly," State Health Commissioner Dr. Mary Bassett said. "While these subvariants are new, the tools to combat them are not. These tools will work if we each use them: get fully vaccinated and boosted, test following exposure, symptoms, or travel, consider wearing a mask in public indoor spaces, and consult with your healthcare provider about treatment if you test positive. I thank the Department's scientists for leading this effort and those contributing to this work throughout New York and around the world."

For the month of March, BA.2.12 and BA.2.12.1 rose to collectively comprise more than 70% prevalence in Central New York and more than 20% prevalence in the neighboring Finger Lakes region.

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State health officials urge New Yorkers to continue to take precautions to limit the spread of COVID-19.

The department recommends all New Yorkers:
--Get fully vaccinated and boosted when eligible
--Consider wearing a mask in public indoor spaces, regardless of vaccination status
--Test following exposure, symptoms, or travel
--If COVID-positive, stay home and consult with a healthcare provider about treatments
--Improve air ventilation or gather outdoors to reduce transmission and the risk of severe disease over the upcoming Easter and Passover holidays

The New York State Department of Health reminds all New Yorkers that COVID-19 remains a public health risk to individuals of all ages.

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