BUFFALO, NY (WIVB) — On the same day that scientists at the University of Buffalo declared that the Omicron variant has officially arrived in Western New York, Governor Kathy Hochul came to the Erie County Medical Center to thank healthcare workers in what is now a brief lull in the onset of the virus.

“We’ve had a dramatic decline in cases here in Western New York,” said Hochul, who credited an early mask mandate for bringing Erie County from having the highest transmission rate in the state a few weeks ago, to now having only half the rate of the statewide average of Covid cases. The seven-day average in New York is now about 115 cases per 100,000 residents. In Erie County, it’s only about 58 cases per 100,000.

The highest positivity is now in NY City where the Omicron variant has taken root. “We’re not panicking,” said Hochul. “We have the resources we need, we have vaccinations, we have boosters, we have masks, we have people who are being smart and if they have any symptoms at all they stay away from work, from school, and their loved ones. So it’s not March 2020, it’s not even December of 2020. We have to keep this in context.”

Hochul came to ECMC to thank healthcare workers for spending several weeks at full hospital capacity.

“We actually anticipated and projected that we might see as many as 50% more people but the introduction of the mask mandate and we started to see the curve flatten and now it has decreased,” said Dr. Brian Murray, the chief medical officer for ECMC. “But I think that’s been effective at preventing Delta. The concern we have now is we have a variant coming that is much more contagious than Delta was. So we do expect to see more infections both in vaccinated and unvaccinated, unfortunately, it’s the unvaccinated people who get really sick.”

George Richert is an award-winning reporter who first joined the News 4 team in 1998, later returning in 2018. See more of his work here.

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