The percentage of people in New York City testing positive for COVID-19 doubled in three days this week, and a top advisor to Mayor Bill de Blasio said it was an indication of the omicron variant evading immunity in a way the virus never had before.
But the city’s soon-to-be mayor threw cold water on the idea of any sort of lockdown to deal with the threat.
Dr. Jay Varma, a professor at Cornell and De Blasio’s senior public health advisor, tweeted Thursday morning that the city’s positivity rate was rising sharply.
“Um, we’ve never seen this before in #NYC,” Varma tweeted, noting that the daily positivity rate on Dec. 9 was 3.9% and appeared to have doubled by Dec. 12 to 7.8%.
“This is #SARSCoV2 evading both vaccine & virus induced immunity *against infection* unlike any variant before. That’s only explanation for dramatic jump in positivity. Consensus for now (but subject to change) is that immunity *against severe disease* should be far better,” he went on to tweet.
(A new British study released Thursday suggested the omicron variant could cause symptoms that might be mistaken for the common cold. That comes amid growing research indicating that omicron causes milder illness than the delta variant, but will sicken many more people, threatening the stability of healthcare systems.)
Subsequent to Varma’s screenshot, the city updated its data to show the positivity rate was actually 7.3% on Dec. 12, falling to 6.5% on Dec. 13 — still about double what it was a week prior, in any event.
Omicron NYC cases on the rise
Across the board, the city’s indicators are trending in the wrong direction. Over the last seven days, the city is averaging 2,899 positive cases a day, which is more than 1,000 cases higher than the 28-day average.
Transmission rates are going almost straight up as well — 311 per 100,000 as of Monday, more than double in the space of two weeks.
“The data that we monitor so closely is showing an alarming trend,” Health Commissioner Dr. Dave Chokshi said at a news conference. The city will distribute 500,000 rapid tests and 1 million masks for free as part of a new strategy to combat the surge. De Blasio also suggested the city was looking at the possibility of requiring boosters for teachers and other city employees.
For the first time, the city listed omicron on its variant tracking page Thursday, indicating it’s been identified in 1% of tested cases over the last week. That number is expected to rise quickly, as it has been elsewhere.
But Mayor-elect Eric Adams, asked at an unrelated news conference about the COVID surge, suggested the city wasn’t about to go back to the restrictions it saw in early- and mid-2020.
“It’s going to take a lot for me to lock down the city,” Adams said, adding that he would again utilize the Javits Center to house COVID patients if need be.
New state measures
As Adams prepares to take over the city Jan. 1 and confront the virus, the same surge is happening statewide, prompting Gov. Kathy Hochul to warn Thursday the state was in for a “rough ride” this coming winter.
She said new measures were on the way to try and fight the virus.
“At some point we may have to determine that fully vaccinated may mean boosted as well,” she said, adding that an announcement would come soon and people should “prepare for that.”
NYU omicron cases prompt closures
Across the state, there are growing signs of the impact of the new variant. On Wednesday, NYU said it would move finals online, close facilities, cancel events and urge students to take food to go from dining halls.
The university cited a “sharp acceleration” in cases this week for the move.
It’s not alone in the region, though, in moving students virtual as cases spike. Both Cornell and Princeton have done the same this week.
Neither NYU nor Princeton have updated their COVID dashboards since the surge started, but Cornell has — and the number of new daily positives on campus rose 23x in one week.