NEW YORK CITY (WROC) — Gov. Kathy Hochul hosted a COVID-19 briefing Monday afternoon to update New Yorkers on the state’s ongoing pandemic response efforts.

The governor announced an executive order Friday aimed at boosting hospital capacity ahead of a potential winter spike in COVID-19 cases.

She announced the new protocol amid warnings about a new and highly transmissible coronavirus variant known as “omicron,” which has not yet been detected in New York.

Joining the governor for the briefing Monday was Dr. Kirsten St. George, Director of Virology and Chief of the Laboratory of Viral Diseases at the Wadsworth Center, the New York-based lab that analyzes COVID samples for variant data.

Dr. St. George said, as of Monday afternoon, there was still no confirmed cases of omicron in New York or the U.S. North America’s first confirmed omicron cases were announced in Canada Sunday. The goverornor said the difference between the new variant today, and the pandemic’s state one year ago, is the vaccine.

“We are not defenseless,” Gov. Hochul said. “Anyone over the age of 5 can get the vaccine, and anyone over the age of 18 can get the booster.”

The state’s vaccination progress, according to the governor, is as follows:

  • 29,477,691 total vaccine doses administered
  • 71,547 total vaccine doses administered in past 24 hours
  • 90.3% of New Yorkers 18 and older with at least one vaccine dose
  • 80.5% of New Yorkers 18 and older fully vaccinated
  • 72.1% of New Yorkers 12-17 with at least one vaccine dose
  • 63.6% of New Yorkers 12-17 fully vaccinated

Hochul’s order, announced Friday, allows the state health department to limit non-essential surgeries, if needed, to ensure capacity.

The governor said the order also will allow the state to acquire critical supplies more quickly. The move comes amid growing concerns about hospital beds and staffing.

“There will be a surge in COVID hospitalizations ten days from now,” Gov. Hochul said.

The governor said the state has seen a 4% decrease in hospital bed capacity — approximately 1,580 hospital beds — since August, with the biggest loss in hospital beds coming from Upstate New York. The governor said the vaccine mandate for health care workers was not the only reason that here has been a decrease in hospital beds, but one of many contributing factors.

The emergency order will also impact non-essential elective surgeries at hospital. The governor said, effective December 3, non-essentials surgery will stop at hospitals in “hot spot” COVID areas. The said this matter will be reassessed on January 15, but can also happen sooner if an area’s COVID numbers improve before then.

The governor said the state is focusing on making sure nursing homes will have enough staff for the winter, adding that the National Guard will assist to health care facilities during a shortage. The governor said the state’s newlyimplmented

“The long term solution is to get more National Guard members, EMT trained,” Gov. Hochul said.

The governor said the state’s new visitation rules for nursing homes, which greatly expanded visitation access for families, may be reviewed and revised depending on COVID trajectories.

Another current focus for the governor include keeping kids in schools. She’s scheduled to meet with education leaders and the state’s new Health Commissioner, Dr. Mary Bassett, later this week.

“We want to get back to normal,” Gov. Hochul said. “We want to get back to a time when kids to have to wear masks to school.”

The governor said the state is bringing 13 mass vaccination sites back online across New York with plans for more to follow. Rochester’s mass vaccination clinics, previously located at the Dome Arena and former Kodak Hawkeye parking lot, closed earlier this year as demand for vaccination decreased.

Watch the full briefing

Check back with News 8 WROC as we will continue to update this developing story.