NEW YORK (WABC) -- New York City health officials issued a new mask advisory on Monday, strongly recommending all residents -- regardless of vaccination status -- wear masks in all public indoor settings ahead of expected cases of the new omicron variant of COVID-19.
"Today, I am also issuing a Commissioners' advisory strongly recommending that all New Yorkers wear a mask at all times, when indoors and in a public setting, like at the grocery, in building lobbies, offices and retail stores," Health Commissioner Dr. David Chokshi said. "This includes those who are vaccinated and those who have had COVID-19. Higher quality masks can offer additional protection, and masks are still required for everyone in public transit, health care settings, schools and congregate settings."
Mayor Bill de Blasio, Mayor-elect Eric Adams, and New York Governor Kathy Hochul addressed concerns over the new variant, first discovered in southern Africa. City officials say scientists have yet to confirm any cases of omicron in New York City, but they anticipate cases of the newest variant to begin popping up.
"We do anticipate detecting omicron in New York City in the coming days based on what we know about its global spread," Dr. Chokshi said.
Mayor Bill de Blasio added that health officials are "very, very carefully" monitoring the omicron variant, adding that it will be critical for vaccination efforts.
"What we are saying clear as a bell today is what has worked up to now continues to be the key," he said. "Vaccination and obviously masks play a very important role as well."
There is a "high level of coordination underway," de Blasio said, adding that he and Governor Hochul have been coordinating city and state efforts.
Officials also said they are encouraging all individuals who traveled or gathered for the Thanksgiving holiday to get tested.
On average, federal data shows that nearly 5,400 people in New York are testing positive for the virus each day, marking the highest number of new positive cases reported daily since the first week of February.
So far, 88% of adults in NYC have had at least one dose. Among kids ages 12-17, the number is 81%.
However, just 16% of kids ages 5-11 have had at least one dose of the vaccine. Some 930,000 people in the city have gotten their booster shot.
Meantime Monday, the U.S. banned most travel from eight countries, including South Africa.
Permanent residents and U.S. citizens are not affected.
The aggressive step comes after World Health Organization researchers in Botswana discovered the new variant.
The concern is that this strain may have mutated so much that it could be resistant to antibodies and vaccines may not be as effective.
United Airlines Flight 187 arrived at Newark Airport just before 7 a.m. Monday, the last flight from Johannesburg, South Africa, with international passengers ahead of the administration's travel ban.
"I've been tested and I had my negative test, and I also have my vaccination certificate with me," said Hennie Viljoen, traveling from South Africa. "I think that should be enough. I don't think they should carry on. We can't carry on by just locking up everybody. I don't think that's good for the economy."
Still, flights from South Africa will continue.
United is one of two U.S. carriers that fly out of southern Africa, Delta is the other. Neither have any plans to change their schedules in response to the ban, which does not apply to American citizens or lawful permanent residents.
As United explained in a statement, "United remains committed to maintaining a safe and vital link for repatriation efforts as well as the transport of essential supplies like vaccines between Africa and the U.S."
Not only does United operate five flights a week between Newark and Johannesburg, but the airline also plans to resume flights between Newark and Cape Town on Wednesday.
Delta operates three weekly flights between Atlanta and Johannesburg.
Under current regulations, all passengers flying into the United States must provide proof of a negative coronavirus test, and noncitizens are required to be fully vaccinated.
Doctors in our area say vaccines and booster shots are still the best defense against the new variant.
"The vaccines, even if they take a hit, will not be rendered ineffective," said Dr. Jen Ashton, Chief Health and Medical Editor and Correspondent for ABC News. "So I'm very confident that the vaccines will provide some degree of protection, maybe a very high degree of protection, that's why it's really important that people get the vaccines and people get boosted if they're eligible."
WATCH | Dr. Sutton explains what we know about omicron:
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