NYC elevates to 'high' COVID-19 alert level, indoor masks urged

COVID-19 update for NYC

ByEyewitness News WABC logo
Wednesday, May 18, 2022
NYC elevates to 'high' COVID alert level, indoor masking urged
New York City entered the "high" COVID-19 alert level Tuesday, and health officials are strongly recommending wearing masks in public indoor settings.

NEW YORK CITY (WABC) -- New York City entered the "high" COVID-19 alert level Tuesday, and health officials are strongly recommending wearing masks in public indoor settings.

Health officials say there is high community spread, and pressure on the health care system is increasing.

"New York City has transitioned to a high COVID alert level, meaning now is the time to double down on protecting ourselves and each other by making choices that can keep our friends, neighbors, relatives and coworkers from getting sick," Health Commissioner Dr. Ashwin Vasan said. "As a city, we have the tools to blunt the impact of this wave, including distributing tests, masks and promoting treatments. Getting back to Low Risk depends on everyone doing their part and if we follow guidance, our forecasts anticipate this wave's peak will not last long. What we do now can make all the difference."

The Department of Health and Mental Hygiene issued an advisory Monday, ahead of the planned threat risk elevation, that urges all residents to use high-quality masks -- such as KN95 and KF94 masks and N95 respirators -- when indoors and in a public setting, including at grocery stores, building lobbies, offices, stores, and other common or shared spaces where individuals may interact, such as restrooms, hallways, elevators, and meeting rooms.

The advisory notes particular importance for people who are at high risk of severe illness and death, namely those who are over 65 or who are unvaccinated.

Map: 7-day rolling positivity rates by Zip code:

The Department of Education also sent a letter to families, recommending that all public school students 2 and older wear a mask.

"We recommend that everyone age 2 and older wear a well-fitting mask in all public indoor settings, including at school and early childhood education (ECE) programs, even if not required," the letter read. "Encourage your child to wear a mask while at school or ECE program and when gathering with friends. Your child's school has masks available."

Officials also urged everyone 5 and older to get vaccinated and a booster when eligible.

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The health department advises people at high risk of severe illness due to an underlying medical condition, older adults and people who are unvaccinated, including children under the age of five who are not yet eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine, to avoid crowded settings and non-essential gatherings, particularly indoors.

In addition, the advisory notes that the impact of COVID-19 transmission is higher in settings with a high number of unvaccinated people.

Despite the steady increase in COVID-19 infections across the state, New York City Mayor Eric Adams insisted on Monday that the city is not yet ready to reinstate its indoor mask mandate.

"We're not at that point yet," he said. "We're not at the point of doing anything other than urging New Yorkers while you're indoors in large set-in social settings. We're not going to panic. We're going to continue to be prepared."

Infection rates across the city have been steadily on the rise for more than two months, and this week, New York City reported its highest average number of new infections since late January.

Adams stressed that even with increases, the city is in a different place than it was at the onset of the pandemic, with key tools now at people's disposal to help blunt the impact of the virus.

"We now have the antivirals, we didn't have that before," he said. "We have more tools, so we don't have to fight the war we had before. This is a new war. And we're going to use all those tools to do so."

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul said she continues to work with federal and state officials to ensure the state is prepared for any sort of surge that could appear in the months ahead.

"At the state level, we will continue to make sure these tools are available to all New Yorkers as we work together to move safely forward through this pandemic," she said.

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New Yorkers can find an at-home test distribution pick up location most convenient to them and their hours of operation by visiting the city's COVID-19 testing page. New Yorkers with a disability who need assistance or have questions regarding at home test kits should call 311. Those who are deaf or hard of hearing and use American Sign Language can call via video phone at 646-396-5830.

New Yorkers who test positive using an at-home test can call 212-COVID19 to be connected to resources like free meal and care package delivery. Care packages contain personal protection equipment (PPE) for a household of three to quarantine, two rapid antigen at-home tests, and other necessities to help New Yorkers safely isolate.

Multiple COVID-19 treatments are available for people ages 12 and older, and can be delivered to New Yorkers' homes for free. For more information on COVID-19 treatments, please call 212-COVID19 and press 9 or visit

Calling 212-COVID19 provides New Yorkers an immediate connection to a clinician who can refer them to monoclonal antibody treatment or prescribe antiviral medications, like Paxlovid, and arrange to have it delivered to their home that same day for free.

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