Mayor de Blasio, Gov. Hochul Prepare City and State for What Could be Another Winter Surge
By Yehudit Garmaise
Mayor Bill de Blasio, who just announced, “it is clear that the Omicron variant is here in New York City in full force,” explained at a press conference in Prospect Park this afternoon a series of measures the city is taking to address to slow the spread, which has seen “a very substantial increase in the last few days.”
“What has worked for us as New Yorkers in the entire fight against COVID is being aggressive, being assertive, and taking bold measures,” the mayor said. “We have been doing that, and we're going to do that a lot more because we need to stop this variant.
“This variant moves fast. We need to move faster.”
In fact, after the COVID positivity rate doubled in three days, Jay Varma, MD, one of the mayor’s senior health advisors said that the Omicron variant is evading the immunity provided by both antibodies and vaccination, “in a way a virus never had before.”
After noting that New York City’s daily positivity rate shockingly doubled between Dec. 9 and Dec. 13, when the rate shot up from 3.9% to 7.8% in just three days, Dr. Varma, who is an epidemiologist and a professor of population health sciences at the Weill Cornell School of Medicine, tweeted, “Um, we’ve never seen this before in #NYC.”
NYC Health Commissioner Dave Chokshi, MD, also sounded disturbed, when he noted that the seven-day positivity average for new virus cases has tripled in the last month.
“The data that we monitor so closely is showing an alarming trend,” said Dr. Chokshi, who said the city is increasing the number of testing sites and will distribute both 500,000 rapid tests and 1 million free KN95 masks, which provide more protection against respiratory transmissible diseases, as part of the city’s new strategy to combat the latest COVID surge.
Schools are expected to remain in-person, although individual classes may shut down, and the mayor is considering requiring teachers and other city workers to get their booster shots.
The mayor also might more stringently enforce his requirements that businesses require their employees, customers, and visitors to be vaccinated, and the governor might double-down on her vax-or-mask requirements.
“We’ll have inspectors going out full force, starting tomorrow, to make sure there’s a high level of compliance with each of those mandates,” the mayor said.
As of now, Omicron cases account for only 1% of total COVID cases, which is currently comprised mostly of the Delta strain, but health officials expect the number of patients who are infected with Omicron to rise quickly.
Dr. Chokshi issued a new health commissioner’s order, which Corporate Counsel Georgia Pestana has many times said that he is within his legal rights to do, that includes frequent testing, trying to gather only outdoors, and wearing face-coverings: in particular the heavier KNP5 masks, while indoors.
When Mayor-elect Adams was asked what would make him return to the city’s restrictions during the height of the pandemic in 2020, he said, “It’s going to take a lot for me to lock down the city.”
Adams said to accommodate a deluge of patients, G-d forbid, he would utilize the Javits Center, which was done the first time around, to house COVID patients, if necessary.
In her own press conference, Gov. Kathy Hochul warned that the COVID surge is happening statewide, which meant that, this winter, New York was in for a “rough ride,” she said.
One measure the governor is considering taking to staunch the next surge is to re-define people as “fully-vaccinated,” not only when they received two shots, but when they have been boosted as well.
Anthony Fauci, MD, said this morning that the current booster can fight Omicron, and he also said that boosters are necessary to fight Omicron, which is more easily transmissible than Delta, but is thought to create milder symptoms.
Ahead of the holiday gatherings, while Omicron has just begun to assert itself, get the booster now,” Mayor de Blasio said. “It's one of the best ways to fight back.”