Flight crew from Air China arrive in hazmat suits in the international terminal at Los Angeles International Airport on December 3, 2021. AFP
"The omicron variant is here, and as anticipated we are seeing the beginning of community spread," state Health Commissioner Mary Bassett said in a news release.
Seven of the cases have been found in New York City and one in Suffolk County.
The arrival of omicron comes as hospitals statewide continue to strain under a surge in coronavirus cases, most traced to the delta variant, along with staffing shortages.
The number of people testing positive statewide each day for the virus has doubled in the last 30 days.
Gov. Kathy Hochul in recent days has authorized the Health Department to limit nonessential, non-urgent procedures at hospitals close to running out of beds and deployed National Guard teams to relieve healthcare workers at facilities dealing with staffing issues and surging caseloads.
Fifteen members of the National Guard arrived at Monroe Community Hospital in Rochester on Saturday, WROC reported. Lt. Gov. Brian Benjamin said Wednesday the state would send 13 National Guard teams to the western New York county, where County Executive Adam Bello has declared a state of emergency.
New York's omicron cases so far appear to be unrelated, Hochul said. One of the known cases involved a man from Minnesota who was among 50,000 people who attended a three-day anime festival in New York City in November. Authorities have urged anyone who attended the conference to get tested for COVID-19 and wear a mask in public.
Much remains unknown about omicron, including whether it is more contagious, as some health authorities suspect, whether it can thwart vaccines and whether it makes people as sick as the original strain.
The variant has been detected in a handful of states so far, including Nebraska, Minnesota, California, Hawaii, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Colorado, Utah, Missouri, New Jersey and Georgia.
"We knew the omicron variant was coming and we expect to see more cases. But let me be clear: We are not defenseless,'' Hochul said. "We have the tools to help prevent the spread of this deadly virus: Get your vaccine, get your booster, and wear your mask."