Masks urged in New York City as COVID-19 omicron subvariant BA.5 cases tick up

COVID-19 update for NYC

ByEyewitness News via WABC logo
Monday, July 11, 2022
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As COVID cases tick up in New York City, the health department is urging residents to wear masks in all indoor settings and crowded areas outdoors. N.J. Burkett has the story.

NEW YORK CITY (WABC) -- As COVID-19 cases tick up in New York City, the Department of Health is continuing to urge residents to wear masks in all public indoor settings and in crowded areas outdoors.

It comes as the latest omicron variant, BA.5, has become the dominant strain in the United States and concerns for the risk of reinfection grow.

Health officials say there has not been any dramatic spike in hospitalizations, but the average daily death toll on Friday stood at 329 and has not changed significantly over the past two months.

Meanwhile, nearly 72 million Americans remain completely unvaccinated.

To date, approximately 78.4% of the total population has received at least one dose, and 67% of the population is fully vaccinated.

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In New York, the trend is unmistakable. Since April, the infection rate has been rising in all five boroughs and surging over the past two weeks to nearly 20%.

"I think it's important for New Yorkers to understand that there is a lot of COVID being transmitted in this city, and the rates of it are absolutely increasing," former Mayoral Health Advisor Dr. Jay Varma said.

Dr. Varma is urging New Yorkers to wear masks more often, especially since the long-term effects of COVID-19 are not well known or understood.

"One of the things that makes me personally very concerned, both about my own health as well as the health of other people, is that we're constantly taking a gamble every time we get infected with this virus," he said. "So the less likely we are to get infected, the better off we are."

COVID positivity in NYC by borough:

Even with confirmed cases on the rise, experts say the official COVID-19 metrics severely undercount the true number of infections, leaving the United States with a critical blind spot as the most transmissible coronavirus variant yet takes hold.

BA.5 carries key mutations that help it escape antibodies generated by vaccines and prior infection, aiding its rapid spread.

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With that will come "escalating numbers of cases and more hospitalizations," Dr. Eric Topol, a cardiologist and professor of molecular medicine at Scripps Research, said on CNN Monday. "One good thing is it doesn't appear to be accompanied by the ICU admissions and the deaths as previous variants, but this is definitely concerning."

But to look at official case counts, it's hard to tell.

The share of cases that are officially reported is at an "all-time low," said Dr. Michael Mina, an epidemiologist and chief science officer at telehealth company eMed. "There's no doubt about that."

COVID-19 cases have been undercounted to some degree throughout the pandemic for reasons including a lack of available tests at some points and asymptomatic cases that may have been missed. But as people increasingly rely on rapid at-home tests -- and as attitudes toward the pandemic shift overall -- the US hasn't landed on a reliable way to track transmission levels.

ALSO READ | COVID cases undercount leave US with blind spot amid BA.5 spread

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An estimate from the Institute for Health Metrics, a research center at the University of Washington, suggests that actual infection numbers in the first week of July have been about seven times higher than reported cases -- which have averaged about 107,000 each day over the past two weeks, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

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