SYRACUSE, N.Y. (WSYR-TV) — Onondaga County Executive Ryan McMahon held a COVID-19 briefing on April 13 at 1 p.m.

McMahon began the briefing by explaining a bit about the recent surge we have seen in the past few weeks Central New York. Central New York has had consistently higher numbers than other areas of the state, and McMahon said that a more contagious sub-strain of BA.2, BA.2.12, is to blame. McMahon says that this new strain is “potentially a big piece of that answer,” when referring to Central New York’s higher recent caseloads.

McMahon then reminded everyone what was different about this surge compared to others — our preparedness. “It’s important that you go through the basics again, from a prevention standpoint,” McMahon stated. Central New York has plenty of tools to empower individuals against COVID-19, including booster shots, which McMahon said that 100,000 eligible individuals have still not received.

McMahon then shared some of today’s COVID-19 numbers. There were 267 confirmed cases from tests today and 219 reported at-home tests. There are 74 Onondaga County residents in the hospital, and 7 in the ICU. In total, Onondaga County has lost 1,097 residents to COVID-19 after two more individuals — one in their 60s and one in their 40s — passed away.

After reviewing the numbers, Dr. Gupta, the Onondaga County Health Commissioner, took the stand. Dr. Gupta shared that she was concerned about the high number of cases in our community and the rising hospitalizations, but that the county “would like everyone to use tools in the tool box,” like free masks, testing kits, and the information they relay. Dr. Gupta also reviewed some of the antiviral therapeutics available, such as paxlovid.

The New York State Department of Health Wednesday announced the emergence of not one, but two new sub-variants in the state.  BA.2.12 and BA.2.12, both variants are sub-lineages of BA.2, which the DOH says 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,” said State Health Commissioner Dr. Mary T. Bassett. “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.”

McMahon then opened the briefing up to questions.

What percent of our cases are the new strain?

McMahon and Gupta said that we currently have “horrible” information, but think around 30 to 40 percent, all caused by the BA.2.12 sub-strain. They add that we are the first spot in the state where BA.2.12 has been confirmed.

Standing theory for the strain was travel during February break, is that still the reason?

McMahon said that the travel was still the theory, albeit not a “bulletproof theory.”

Are you also expecting numbers to rise when people return from spring break and Easter travel?

McMahon doesn’t believe that cases will rise as they have in the past. He said that we already have the contagious strain here, but that he doesn’t know what spring break will do. He is expecting what’s happening here to happen around the state, however.

Given that this in the most contagious strain… is the county considering mask wearing in indoor public spaces?

McMahon said that Onondaga County isn’t experiencing the same uptick that we had during the omicron peak, and he has no plan for more mandates. “The mandates don’t work. They just don’t,” said McMahon. McMahon also said that the county needs to find balance. “We are empowering you with information and tools… we shouldn’t have to mandate things.”

Is 170-180 hospitalizations what would trigger new protocols? What would they be?

McMahon responded saying that they would have to speak with hospitals to see how they are doing before saying a specific number. He also added that the information, like hospitalizations, is not to incite panic, but to inform the public and be transparent.

Will Onondaga County continue contact investigation?

McMahon said that contact tracing hasn’t been happening and is impossible to do with omicron.

Is the county or state telling someone what protocols to take if they test positive?

McMahon said that links for reporting are still available if they test positive, but full blown case investigations won’t be happening.

Central New York numbers might panic people… What would you say to someone who is looking at these numbers and panicking?

McMahon responded that the county is reporting these numbers to be transparent, and “at this stage of the game, we are empowering people, empowering businesses… with information and tools.”

Will COVID-19 hospitalizations continue to rise?

McMahon stated that we will probably see hospitalizations go up again. He also shared that during his reports, Mondays will also be the highest as it’s harder to discharge over the weekend.

Why are we seeing relatively fewer deaths this surge?

McMahon shared that our high vaccination rate helped prevent death. He also added that this variant is not as lethal. Dr. Gupta had nothing more to add.

Are the new prescriptions only available to everyone with underlying illnesses?

Dr. Gupta said that the antiviral medications are available depending on your symptoms, their severity, and any underlying symptoms you might have.

Would you consider another mandate at any point?

McMahon, while saying earlier that mandates don’t work, said that he will still look at all of the options in an emergency situation. McMahon said that it’s about “finding balance with what we know works and with the data.”

Any theories as to why this strain first appeared in CNY?

McMahon believes that the strain’s arrival had to be travel related.

Should we stop traveling?

McMahon stated that no, “we have to live life.” There are also other crises going on, such as the opioid crisis. McMahon also added that “lockdown’s don’t work — look at Shanghai.”