New York City health officials put the city on “high Covid alert” on Tuesday after rising cases and hospitalizations reached levels that could put significant strain on the health care system.
The announcement was triggered by a color-coded warning system that the city introduced in March. But so far, the system has had little impact on the city’s disease control strategy or public perception.
Mayor Eric Adams warned Monday that the city was approaching the threshold, but said “we are not on the verge of mandating masks.”
For the past two months, there has been a sustained rise in known infections, almost entirely caused by Omicron subvariants. In recent days, the city has registered an average of more than 3,500 new daily cases, although those numbers significantly underestimate the prevalence of the virus, as many infections are detected by home tests but never counted by health authorities.
Covid-19 hospitalizations have been on the rise, recently reaching about 130 new admissions per day in New York City, according to state data.
This latest wave of coronavirus cases — New York City’s fifth — began in mid-March and has so far taken less of a toll than when Omicron first passed through the city in December and January. In that first wave of Omicron, perhaps 30 percent of the city was contaminated, according to research from the CDC, and hospitals came under pressure as sick patients packed the emergency room.
The city’s color-coded alert system includes data on both the number of cases and hospitalizations. And it links specific recommendations to each threshold. On Tuesday, the city entered the orange or “high” level of risk, which comes with a recommendation that city authorities require face masks in all indoor public settings.
But Mr. Adams has shown little interest in mandating masks. At the “high” level, the mayor might consider reintroducing a mask mandate, including in schools, but on Monday he said he had no plans to take that step yet.
On Tuesday, his health commissioner, Dr. Ashwin Vasan, made a statement urging New Yorkers to take their own precautions. But he made no mention of government action to impose mask mandates.
“New York City has moved to a high Covid alert level, which means now is the time to protect ourselves and each other by making choices that can help keep our friends, neighbors, relatives and colleagues from getting sick,” he said. . in a statement.
On Monday, Dr. Vasan issued an advisory recommending that people wear medical-grade masks in offices, supermarkets and other indoor public settings.
Still, some New Yorkers noticed how long it took the city to raise the alert level, as the virus has been circulating widely in the past two months, with test positivity rates in some neighborhoods exceeding 10 percent.
“The thresholds are meaningless,” Professor Denis Nash, an epidemiologist at the CUNY Graduate School of Public Health & Health Policy, said in a telephone interview Tuesday morning as he recovered from Covid-19.