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First Case Of COVID-19 Omicron Variant Confirmed In Onondaga County, But Delta Remains Biggest Threat

Health Commissioner Dr. Indu Gupta pleads with residents to get vaccinated and wear masks in order to "break the cycle" of the virus.
Scott Willis
Health Commissioner Dr. Indu Gupta pleads with residents to get vaccinated and wear masks in order to "break the cycle" of the virus.

The first case of the COVID-19 omicron variant has been confirmed in Onondaga County, and officials say it serves as another reminder to get vaccinated and wear a mask. Health Commissioner Dr. Indu Gupta says we know it’s more transmissible, but symptoms appear to be milder and the vaccine seems to offer good protection.

"While we are worried about how omicron will impact our lives, it's very important for everyone to remember the predominant circulating virus in our community is still Delta, and it's creating havoc."

Four more people died in Onondaga County over the weekend. Gupta says SUNY Upstate identified the omicron case through sequencing, and it was someone who became infected last month. The person was partially vaccinated, not hospitalized, and recovered from mild symptoms.

Meanwhile, the state’s indoor mask mandate took effect Monday. Gupta says masks worked a year ago for both COVID and the flu.

"These masks do help save lives in those situations. We saw that last year when all the flu cases disappeared. So it is very important to get the flu shot and the COVID shot. I would say what are you waiting for?"

She says using all of the tools we have will help avoid illness and maintain hospital capacity. Officials are working with business groups on the best way to manage the mask mandate. County executive Ryan McMahon says they’re trying to take a practical, balanced approach.

"This is going to be an educational process. We are going to be a support system for the business community. This is not going to be a punitive process. Businesses are going to do their best. Everyone understand there isn't going to be 100 percent compliance with any mandate. There never has been."

McMahon says the mandate isn’t the best policy, and puts an undue burden on local health departments and county governments.

"We look at this as more of a rallying call from the state to try to get people reengaged and ask for partnership. That's how we're going to handle this.

He believes businesses will do what they can to do the right thing for customers and employees.


Rep. Claudia Tenney (R-New Hartford) calls Governor Hochul's mask mandate burdensome, and urges local officials to reject the mandate.

"Governor Kathy Hochul’s statewide indoor mask mandate is a knee-jerk reaction that failed to take the experiences or input of Upstate communities into account before being implemented. The overreaching requirement places a tremendous burden on our small businesses and local governments, who are now responsible for enforcement," Tenney said in a statement.

She says voluntary vaccination is an important tool to preventing serious illness.

"While those who want a vaccine can receive it, no New Yorker should ever be coerced into doing so. No American ever should be fired for failing to comply with the ever-changing edicts from Washington or Albany. And no small business should be fined or worse for failing to follow whatever the Governor’s latest draconian rule may be."

Scott Willis covers politics, local government, transportation, and arts and culture for WAER. He came to Syracuse from Detroit in 2001, where he began his career in radio as an intern and freelance reporter. Scott is honored and privileged to bring the day’s news and in-depth feature reporting to WAER’s dedicated and generous listeners. You can find him on twitter @swillisWAER and email him at