Good morning. It is Wednesday. It’s been almost a week since the end of the coronavirus emergency. We’ll see what that has meant for New York City.
There are still mask wearers on the subway and places like theaters, and some private pop-up tents continue to offer Covid-19 tests on sidewalks. But the city’s mobile test-to-treat vans have disappeared from the streets. The home vaccination program is also a thing of the past.
Still, Covid-19 is not completely gone. When the Covid-19 federal public health emergency ended on May 11, New York City was averaging 254 cases per day and 13 people were hospitalized for Covid-19. On average, one person died a day, according to Health Ministry data.
“We’re not in a crisis phase,” said Mark Levine, the president of the borough of Manhattan, who chaired the council’s health committee as a city council member until last year, “but people should still be aware of it.” He said the short-term challenge for officials will be making sure people know where to get tests and, if they are sick, treatment.
The city will continue to distribute free home tests in libraries and other locations until the federal government’s supply is exhausted. My colleague Sharon Otterman writes that the city’s public hospitals and clinics will continue to provide low-cost or free care to the uninsured, as they do for other illnesses.
But access to home tests is changing, as insurers are no longer required to cover eight free tests per month, and the federal program to send home test kits through the mail will end.
“Covid-related health care is going to be much more like all the other health care we get, including health insurance for people who have it, and calling on our safety net health care system for people who don’t,” Rima Oken, policy director for the disease control department of the New York City Health Department, said at a recent panel discussion hosted by the Pandemic Response Institute.
For now, the city says Medicaid will continue to cover tests until at least September next year. And the city will continue its Covid-19 hotline (212-COVID19), with an immediate connection to a doctor who can prescribe antiviral medication to someone who has contracted Covid-19.
Knowing how the virus is circulating — or how much virus is around — will be more difficult. New York State said it would take three Covid-19 data dashboards offline this week and is reviewing changes to Covid-19 data collection and reporting. The city will continue to monitor Covid-19 cases, along with vaccinations and, perhaps more importantly, variants. But the data may be reported less frequently and may be less detailed.
Shortages of medical supplies were a chronic problem early in the pandemic. New York State says its strategic stockpile now has 8.64 million N95 masks and 7,851 ventilators — it had just 1,749 ventilators on hand in February 2020. The state’s stockpile now also includes 76.7 million disposable gloves.
The economic consequences
Will the end of the public health emergency mean more people will return to their offices?
The answer will not be clear for some time. For now, more New York City workers are returning, but the city is still lagging behind on the return-to-office statistics. Eptura, a work technology company that provides workplace software, reported this week that a metric it tracks — “desk bookings” — was up 168 percent in the first quarter of 2023 in New York City, compared to the same three months of 2022. a day when an employee uses hardware or software in his or her office, as opposed to remotely.
From a New York perspective, the problem is that agency bookings are up more nationally — 194 percent from January to March, compared to the first quarter of last year.
According to my colleague Matthew Haag, New York has a record amount of empty office space left – more than all of Houston and Dallas-Fort Worth combined.
Real estate company Colliers estimated the vacancy rate in April at 17.4 percent, the same as in February 2022 and the highest since Colliers started keeping records 23 years ago. About 24 percent of space in the Lower Manhattan financial district was vacant, as was nearly 20 percent in and around Times Square, according to the JLL company.
The high vacancy rate is troubling because office buildings and the money they generated were a big part of the city’s economy before the pandemic. Kathryn Wylde, the president of the Partnership for New York City, an influential business group, said she didn’t believe people had continued to work remotely because of the emergency.
“I don’t think it’s been about health for a year or more,” she said. “They’ve developed a habit that they like.” She added that “some employers are becoming less patient with the high number of employees who don’t show up, but it remains a very sensitive issue to be too demanding.”
The retail sector was also hit hard. But those looking for hopeful signs were encouraged Tuesday when Century 21, the discount chain that sold designer goods for bargain prices, reopened a slimmed-down version of its flagship store in Lower Manhattan. The reopening was “a real indication that New York City isn’t coming back, it’s back,” Mayor Eric Adams told WINS radio. Century 21 closed after bankruptcy in September 2020, when the insurance companies refused to pay about $175 million for policies that Century 21 said were “introduced to protect against losses due to business interruption,” such as the shutdown of the pandemic.
Enjoy a mostly sunny day with temperatures in the mid 60s. The evening is mostly clear, with temps in the high 40s.
ALTERNATIVE SIDE PARKING
Effective today. Suspended tomorrow (solemnity of Ascension).
The latest New York news
Monroe Street in Brooklyn. Early fifties. There is one or two hours of daylight left on a hot summer evening.
Dinner was over and a bunch of us kids were hanging out near the corner of Ralph Avenue doing nothing most of the time.
A boy on a bicycle came our way from Patchen Avenue. Nothing special; no one we recognized.
Suddenly he started pelting us with seriously overripe tomatoes from a supply in his handlebar basket.
None of us escaped the attack. And none of us could react before he drove off over the streetcar tracks on Ralph Avenue and disappeared.
We never saw him again. But as I stood there, covered in rancid tomato slime, I had to admit, “That man was good.”
— Theodore O’Neill
Illustrated by Agnes Lee. Send submissions here And read more Metropolitan Diary here.
Glad we could get together here. See you tomorrow. — JB
PS Here’s today’s Mini crossword And Game match. You can find all our puzzles here.