Even with the COVID-19 vaccine being distributed, the city is still facing a health crisis as fears of a surge linger after the Christmas and New Year’s holiday.
During his first media briefing of the year, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that the citywide seven-day rolling average for positive COVID-19 cases is at 9%, which is higher than the 5% the mayor wants to be at.
“January, absolutely crucial month, coming off the holidays,” de Blasio said. “We hope to see in the course of the month of January, downward pressure on these numbers as the effects of the holidays and the gatherings decrease. We also, obviously, hope to see downward pressure as more and more people get vaccinated.”
City health officials say several contributing factors point to a possible surge of cases. The New York City Sheriff’s office reports that they raided several large New Year’s gatherings. One gathering in Queens had a reported 300 people while another in SoHo in Manhattan had nearly 150 people. A gathering in Brooklyn had 80 people.
Organizers of the gatherings were fined $15,000.
Aside from the mass events, officials also cited numerous celebrations in people’s homes that were posted on social media. Small gatherings have been known to spread COVID-19.
While Mayor de Blasio warned New Yorkers against traveling. On Jan. 3, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) reported that almost 1.2 million were screened at airports nationwide on Jan. 2.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo confirmed on Monday that the new variant of COVID-19 discovered in the United Kingdom is now in New York State. The case was found in a 60-year-old man from Saratoga County. The new variant is more contagious than the original coronavirus. New York is the fourth state to find the new variant.
“There has been an apparent increase in post-holiday gatherings let’s call it, we have to watch this—we understood the holidays would bring people together, if they’re not careful we’ll have a viral spread but we’re gonna have to watch this over the next few days and find out exactly where we are when this stabilizes,” said Cuomo.
As public school resumed in-person learning after the winter break, the city’s Department of Education closed 128 school buildings. About 100,000 students, teachers, staff were tested and .68% came back positive.
United Federation of Teachers president Michael Mulgrew says the city’s 9% infection rate should prompt officials to close public schools.
“Safety comes first—as shown by the fact that hundreds of our elementary schools and classrooms are closed temporarily every day because the virus has been detected,” he said. “That is how we have stopped the spread of the virus inside our schools.”
Meanwhile the COVID-19 vaccine continues being distributed. De Blasio announced this week that five large-scale vaccination centers are opening in the coming weeks. The centers will operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week with the goal of administering up to 100,000 vaccine doses per week.
“By standing up large-scale vaccination locations, we’re aiming to dramatically increase our capacity to ramp up this process quickly—underscoring what we could do with greater clarity and advanced notice on eligible populations,” said Melanie Hartzog, deputy mayor for Health and Human Services.
Starting Monday, vaccine eligibility was expanded to include all outpatient/ambulatory front-line, high-risk health care workers who provide direct in-person patient care, as well as all public health care workers who provide direct in-person care.
To get the vaccine moving faster, Gov. Cuomo warned that any provider must use the vaccine inventory currently in hand by the end of week or face a fine up to $100,000.
Meanwhile, the governor announced that he would not take the COVID-19 vaccine until it’s available for Black, Hispanic and poor communities.
“COVID has exposed many of the existing injustices in our society, most notably that racism is, without a doubt, a public health crisis,” Cuomo said. “Case in point—data has continued to show that despite higher infection and death rates in the Black and Latino communities, testing has remained more widely available in white communities. I refuse to let race or income determine who lives and who dies in New York and I mean it.”