David R. Jones (137830)
David R. Jones Credit: Contributed

After two-plus years of the coronavirus pandemic, COVID cases are on the uptick in New York City again.  This is happening as New Yorkers seem to have let their guards down, and that’s a bad omen as we prepare for the post-Labor Day season and back to school, when COVID infections typically surge. 

With all that’s going on in the world – soaring food prices and rents, crazy gas prices, rising interest rates and struggles to find enough vaccine to keep Monkey Pox under control – the ongoing coronavirus pandemic might simply get lost in the shuffle. Yet, we cannot afford to take a summer break from the virus. Not for a moment. 

Case numbers are quite high. Since April, the positivity rate has surged in the five boroughs to as high as 20 percent, which meets federal guidelines for risk of serious disease. Even that number is probably an underestimate, because so many people use home tests and those results do not make national tallies. 

More than 1,000 New Yorkers were hospitalized with COVID at the start of this month.  And while it is understandable that after 28 months of this pandemic many have grown weary, we must snap out of the coronavirus fatigue as evidenced by the sparse number of face coverings you see on NYC buses and subways. The New York City Health Department is again urging New Yorkers to mask up in public indoor settings, and crowded areas outdoors. New Yorkers should follow suit.

It hasn’t helped that New York State, at a time when we should rededicate ourselves to taking seriously our health and that of our neighbors, has not publicly broached the idea of a renewed mask mandate. And just as cases skyrocketed, New York City quietly ended the color-coded alert system that warned New Yorkers when they were at greater risk of catching the virus.  

The good news is, the state and city this month announced that New York City residents who test COVID-positive, regardless of income or health insurance coverage, are eligible to be evaluated for treatment by calling a hotline, 888-TREAT-NY.  A telemedicine visit, operated by NYC Health + Hospitals, may include a free prescription for new, powerful, oral antiviral medications proven to decrease hospitalization for those at risk of severe disease.  The Adams administration has also increased distribution of at-home COVID test kits. 

Additionally, now might also be a good time for New York state and city health officials to resume flooding the airwaves with public service announcements about masks and testing. City health experts should be visible, because U.S. adults say their confidence that medical scientists are acting in the best interest of the public is decreasing, according to a Pew Research Center survey published in February.

For many people of color, this mistrust is often due to not seeing diverse faces – or faces that look like theirs – in positions of power within the public health system. That’s even more reason that the widely diverse New York City Health Department medical leadership should appear in commercials and media offering plain talk about the situation we’re in.

And the reality is, COVID peaks and surges have begun to blend into one ominous din. We could remain in this period of high coronavirus infections for some time because the scary sub-variants keep coming. The latest — BA.4 and BA.5 — are extremely infectious. The World Health Organization warns “the virus is running freely” in the U.S. and Europe. 

Some people are getting the virus for the first time; others for the second, third, or more, occasionally just weeks apart. And a new Omicron subvariant, BA.2.75, which has appeared in the U.S. and several parts of the world, may be able to evade immunity from vaccines and prior infection, according to some scientists

Sure, we now have an arsenal of powerful vaccines, booster shots, antivirals pills and other treatments to stave off the worst damage from COVID. About 67 percent of people have been fully vaccinated. Let’s hope we never return to the panic, suffering and horror of spring 2020, when the coronavirus swept across our city like Azreal. The ensuing chaos unleashed by the virus struck particularly hard at people of color, the poor and immigrant communities. 

This is not the time to get complacent. Precautions against COVID must be a permanent feature of our lives.  The world is different today from the world we lived in two years ago, where we made mistakes and took what – in retrospect – were unnecessary risks.

Today, we have no choice but to accept that COVID is still amongst us.

David R. Jones, Esq., is President and CEO of the Community Service Society of New York (CSS), the leading voice on behalf of low-income New Yorkers for more than 175 years. The views expressed in this column are solely those of the writer. The Urban Agenda is available on CSS’s website: www.cssny.org.

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