'We've never seen this before': NYC COVID-19 positivity rate nearly doubles over 3 days

Coronavirus update for NYC

ByEyewitness News via WABC logo
Friday, December 17, 2021
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A senior health advisor says it is a sign of the omicron variant's rapid spread and ability to evade immunity.

NEW YORK CITY (WABC) -- The COVID-19 positivity rate nearly doubled over three days in New York City, and Mayor Bill de Blasio announced to steps Thursday to hopefully slow the surge.

Dr. Jay Varma, a senior health advisor to the mayor, said the spike is a sign of the omicron variant's rapid spread and ability to evade immunity.

"Um, we've never seen this before in #NYC," he tweeted.

He went on to say that omicron was evading both vaccine and virus-induced immunity "unlike any variant before."

"That's only explanation for dramatic jump in positivity," he wrote. "Consensus for now (but subject to change) is that immunity *against severe disease* should be far better."

The city since updated its data to a positivity rate of 7.3% on December 12, which then dropped to 6.5% for the 13th. Still, cases in the city have tripled in the last month, and Health Commissioner Dr. David Chokshi expects they will continue to rise based on patterns in the United Kingdom and South Africa.

The data is "alarming," he said, but vaccines remain effective in reducing severe disease.

Cases per capita by vaccination status:

De Blasio then detailed a six-pronged approach to stamping out omicron in New York City.

"We have seen a very substantial increase in COVID cases in the past few days," he said. "It is clear that the omicron variant is here in New York City in full force, and we are announcing a series of measures."

Those measures include:

--Issuing a health advisory with guidance on keeping safe, including recommendations for mask wearing, vaccination, testing and booster shots

--Increase testing capacity with more mobile sites and a doubling down on brick and mortar sites, along with creating new fixed sites an expanding hours of operation

--Distributing 1 million KN95 masks to health centers and clinics

--Distributing half a million at home rapid tests, all for free

--Doubling down on boosters, being aggressive with a paid media campaign to encourage all who qualify to get a booster

--Doubling down on inspections to enforce all current mandates in place

"COVID is bad for business," de Blasio said. "We will be out to businesses all over the city making sure they are applying our new instructions."

There is still much unknown about omicron's severity, but at this point, it appears to be spread much more easily, though thankfully cases at this point appear to be more mild.

Still, long lines extended around the block at some CityMD sites, as people waited hours to get tested Thursday. City Councilman Mark Levine tweeted out the locations of city-run sites, where wait times are generally shorter.

New York Governor Kathy Hochul warned that "people are underestimating the power of omicron" and urged common sense, mask wearing and booster shots ahead of the winter.

"Has anybody heard anything I've said today about the situation we are in?" she said. "This is a crisis. This is a health care crisis, and people are going to die. It is not hyperbole."

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Hochul said she anticipates "a very serious situation" and that "we are in for a very rough ride this winter" with the omicron variant.

She also criticized "a few outlier counties that have declared their resistance to following health laws."

"We are taking very common sense, simple measures like wearing a mask," she said. "This has to be the most uninstructive thing we can do. We are asking people to have common sense."

She also warned that being considered "fully vaccinated" may soon require a booster shot

"At some point, we will have to determine that fully vaccinated means boosted as well, and we will give them sufficient time frame to make that happen," she said. "I'm just sending out the message now, prepare for that."

State Health Commissioner Dr. Mary Bassett said that while the omicron variant seems less lethal, its tendency toward exponential spread could still create "big numbers" of severe cases.

Some of the state's hospitals are already stretched thin by the fall delta wave and may not be prepared for omicron's replication, Hochul said.

"We're going to find ways to bring in more health care workers to supplement," she said. "It's not a shortage of beds. It's people to staff the beds."

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