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County points to new strain as driver behind higher case rate

3M 9501 mask
Katie Zilcosky
3M 9501 mask

Central New York is the first region in the state to detect a new, highly contagious strain of COVID-19. Onondaga County Executive Ryan McMahon reported in a briefing this afternoon that the omicron subvariant BA2.12 makes up about 30% to 40% of current county cases. McMahon said this variant could explain the area’s elevated case rate. Another factor that could be causing the spike is travel. While travel for winter break may have brought on this surge, McMahon doesn’t expect spring break travel to have the same results.

"Well, we have the most contagious strain here already. I don’t know what spring break will do. These are folks, leaving, coming back, it would be unlikely that they would bring back BA4 or BA5 which is just starting to hit South Africa."

McMahon said the arrival of BA2.12 means the community needs to re-engage in covid precautions. He hoped the infrastructure the county has built over the course of the pandemic will benefit us now.

"We’re providing testing to people and providing N-95 masking, we’ve built up PCR testing infrastructure, we have school-based testing, we are asymptomatically testing, we provide vaccines, we provide boosters and we work very hard to educate the physician on how to, when people are sick, provide medicines so they avoid the hospitals."

But he’s not planning to reissue any mask mandates. McMahon said the county is not experiencing the kind of uptick it did when omicron first arrived.

"The data today is not an emergency situation. We have cases. We have tools that we believe will slow that down and in evidently will help the public health of the community. If you had a mandate that you could do, to make this go away, we would have done it already."

Rather, McMahon wants residents to take advantage of the tools available to fight the pandemic, such as testing, masking and getting vaccinated. County residents can order free masks and at-home tests by emailing

Katie Zilcosky is WAER’s All Things Considered host and features reporter. She also co-hosts WAER’s public affairs show Syracuse Speaks. As a reporter, she focuses on technology, economy, and identity.