The surge in COVID-19 cases in New York City has led to the return of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s weekend meetings. The outgoing mayor has scheduled a speech for Sunday at 1 p.m.
The weekend’s unusual gig takes place amid record-breaking positive cases in the Big Apple as well as the rest of the state. New York Governor Kathy Hochul has set consecutive new records for the state, breaking previous highs from January.
The main differences between this current surge and one of the deadliest months of the pandemic earlier in the year are hospitalizations and vaccines. In January, vaccines were still being rolled out for the most vulnerable populations in the country, and it would be a few more months before they were widely available to all Americans.
Hospital stays at the time were overwhelming; New York reported nearly 9,000 hospital admissions due to COVID-19. That current number is still below 4,000 for the state.
“This is not like the start of the pandemic. We are prepared for the winter storm because the tools are available to us.” Hochul said in her press release on Saturday. “Vaccination, booster vaccinations, and wearing a mask are critical to avoiding serious illness from COVID-19. So don’t take any chances.”
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On Saturday, the governor’s daily report showed that nearly 22,000 people in the state had tested positive for COVID-19 just a day after setting a new record for the first time in 11 months. The 21,908 new infections came from a pot of 290,930 tests completed nationwide. Hospital stays across New York have increased slightly, but are still well below half of what was reported in January.
The surge in cases has already dealt a devastating blow to the live performance in New York City. “Saturday Night Live” was forced to record their vacation episode with presenter Paul Rudd without an audience, musical guests and most of the cast and crew. And just the day before, the Rockettes Christmas Spectacular closed the season prematurely after groundbreaking discoveries.
These changes follow a rough week for Broadway with dozens of performance cancellations due to positive cases from the cast and crew.
To bolster current vaccination efforts, the governor on Friday announced plans to expand the state’s vaccine operations to include an additional 40 pop-up locations across the state.
A handful of the sites will go online this weekend, and the rest will be up and running in the coming weeks, said Hochul. The full list of pop-up sites can be found here.
Top health officials and elected leaders reiterate the message that vaccines and booster shots remain one of the greatest defenses against the impending winter surge, which seems to be already on the country’s doorstep.
“We will continue to work with local partners to make vaccines, boosters and tests more widely available. Let’s all celebrate Christmas time with our friends and family this year, ”added Hochul.
According to the CDC, approximately 25% of the state’s population has received a booster dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. That makes up around 3.7 million New Yorkers.
“By creating a plan to visit one of these pop-ups that is right for you and your family, you are helping to protect your family and all New Yorkers,” added Acting Health Commissioner Dr. Mary Bassett added.
The steep rise in infections should be of great concern, but given the rapid spread of the latest variant, it was inevitable, said Dr. Denis Nash, executive director of the Institute for Implementation Science in Population Health at the City University of New York.
“We were already heading for a winter wave with Delta, which in itself is very worrying,” said Nash.
“But on top of that you put the new Omicron variant, which is more transmissible from an infection standpoint,” he said, noting that the current vaccines may not be able to contain the more “invasive” new variant.
“The Omicron symptoms were very mild. The effects on those vaccinated were clinically mild. They do not result in hospitalizations or death,” said Dr. Yves Derouseu, Emergency Services Manager at Lenox Hill Hospital.
Despite seemingly milder COVID cases caused by the Omicron variant, some of the world’s leading experts fear that the variant is so transmissible that it could still put a strain on our region’s hospital system. Dr. Columbia University’s David Ho estimates the average person infected with the variant of Omicron has five others – and said the US just needs to look over the pond to see what’s left in store.
“The surge in the UK is bigger than anything you’ve seen before. Good modeling and data was a week or two ago – that’s what we need to prepare for a surge worse than what we’ve seen before, ”said Dr. Ho
To combat both the Delta and Omicron variants, the state is rushing to source millions of home tests for New Yorkers living in communities with lower vaccination rates. On CNN Friday, the governor confirmed it had 1 million cases and another 2 million are on the way.
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