NEW YORK CITY (WABC) -- Former New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio held a press conference on Thursday to make some recommendations -- and criticisms -- when it comes to the city and its handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The latest omicron sub-variant, BA.5, has become the dominant strain in New York City.
The infection rate has been surging over the past two weeks to nearly 20%, and experts warn the number of cases could be significantly undercounted due to at-home testing.
BA.5 can avoid antibodies thanks to new mutations that aid its rapid spread.
"I think city, state and federal leaders need to say this is a new type of COVID," de Blasio said. "This is the most virulent strain we've seen yet, and we're going to take additional actions to address it."
There are currently more than 1,000 New York City residents hospitalized with COVID-19, the first time that the five boroughs' infection rates have surpassed this mark since the second week of February -- when the massive winter wave of omicron infections started to ebb.
"I have spoken to Mayor Adams, we have a very respectful relationship," de Blasio said. "We communicate a lot...and what I've said to him is that I think we're dealing with a new situation."
De Blasio said there are also concerns with long-COVID with this particular sub-variant.
"This is just part of a cycle that we are going to, unfortunately, be in for some time," said Dr. Jay Varma, a top adviser to de Blasio throughout the pandemic. "And we, as scientists, have no way of predicting when we're going to get out of it."
He had some criticism for the current mayor, Eric Adams, and his handling of some aspects.
"The Adams administration has done zero inspections for vaccine compliance at businesses throughout the city and has fallen short in enforcing the mask mandates in the subway," a press release put out by the de Blasio campaign said.
The former mayor is running for New York's 10th Congressional district.
"This is a matter of public safety; we cannot just ask that New Yorkers supply their own costly masks and avoid populated areas in the name of public good and hope for the best," de Blasio said. "We need to supply them with the tools and the information they need to be safe and organize our government efforts to meet them where others might fall short. New Yorkers have sacrificed enough already -- we need to meet them with all the resources we have to keep them healthy and safe."
De Blasio was also critical of the city's move to abandon the color-coded system he implemented during his term.
"A proper response from our federal and city government starts and ends with clarity from our institutions," he said. "We had a color-coded safety system in March and then it was abandoned by June. We had clearly laid out requirements for restaurants, gyms, and entertainment venues that worked, and then they were dropped and their enforcement is up in the air."
De Blasio recommended the following course of action:
1. Distribute at-home test kits, high-quality N95 masks, and information about Paxlovid to every household in NYC.
2. Form a joint cooperative between the government and private sector to buy KN95 and N95 masks that would be continuously available at restaurants, grocery stores, theaters, gyms, pools, libraries, and other higher-risk settings where people mingle.
3. Enforce private sector mandates for COVID safety.
4. Re-define vaccination standards as "up-to-date" vs. "not up-to-date" for students and workers.
5. Use federal stimulus or infrastructure dollars to address indoor air quality in private buildings and/or tax breaks to support these investments.
Adams has yet to respond to de Blasio's comments, but he discussed the new variants earlier this week.
"The new variants, we are seeing higher rates of community transmission, as well reinfection," he said. "People I know who have had COVID are re-infected. But because of the tools we have available, we are able to combat this. We are not seeing the level of fatalities that we witnessed when we did not have those tools."