What to Know
- NYC is offering $100 to people who get boosters at city-run sites between now and New Year's Eve in a bid to slow omicron's spread; state hospitalizations are now at their highest total since April 7
- Breakthrough infections are jolting the city's pandemic rebound to its core, but de Blasio says NYC will not shut down again; he's hoping the latest incentive encourages more people to get booster protection
- Both Moderna and Pfizer have released data showing their booster doses provide significant increases in protection against omicron compared with the general two-dose regimen for full vaccination
New York City is digging back into its pockets as it scrambles to curb the record-setting omicron tide, offering $100 cash to anyone who gets a COVID-19 booster at a city-run vaccine site between now and New Year's Eve, the mayor said Tuesday.
Calling the program "by far the biggest booster incentive program in the United States of America," Bill de Blasio acknowledged the limited-time opportunity but said it was coming at exactly the right time for the pandemic-weary city.
"This will be by far the biggest booster incentive program in the United States of America and I want to see New Yorkers respond," he said. "This is the moment. Get those booster shots. Help make your family safer, help make this whole city safer."
New Yorkers can also go to SOMOS sites partnering with the city and get the $100 incentive. There are more than 1,000 options -- and home booster options as well. Find the booster site closest to you or the best option for your needs here.
De Blasio, in his waning days in office, made the announcement during his third COVID briefing in three days as he seeks to boost protection for the one-time pandemic epicenter, which is now in the throes of another intense viral wave.
He also said his administration will decide by Christmas whether the annual New Year’s Eve celebration in Times Square will continue as planned. The event was small and socially distanced last year but de Blasio had hoped to hold it this year at “full strength.” That was before reports of COVID-19 cases ramped up again.
New York City and New Jersey Vaccine Providers
Click on each provider to find more information on scheduling appointments for the COVID-19 Vaccine.
Data: City of New York, State of New Jersey • Nina Lin / NBC
The Democrat warned New Yorkers that his health team expects the current surge to intensify in short order -- contributing to an unprecedented increase in viral spread -- but this latest wave is only expected to last a few weeks. Here's hoping.
The city's rolling case weekly average is up nearly 123% over the averages for the prior four weeks, Tuesday's data shows. Hospitalizations are up 12% by the same parameters, but the vast majority of those cases are people who aren't vaccinated.
"Everyone who has not been vaccinated, it's time. Everyone who has not gotten that booster, it's time. This city is ready to make sure everyone gets that booster and that's the way we move through these challenging few weeks," de Blasio said Tuesday. "No more shutdowns. We've been through them, they were devasting, we can't go through it again. We need to all work together these next few weeks."
Temporary restrictions were instituted at the city's jails late Tuesday, with the Department of Correction saying in-person visits and programs like religious services had been suspended.
While much is still to learn about omicron -- and what could come next -- de Blasio has said research shows it is most certainly more transmissible than any previous strain and likely more vaccine-resistant.
We also know COVID vaccines work against the new variant, he says, and data from Moderna and Pfizer show boosters make the protection even more effective.
That appears most true when it comes to preventing severe illness from omicron. Mounting evidence shows two vaccine doses have plunging efficacy against the newest variant of concern. Boosters provide even more protection, Pfizer and Moderna have said their data shows. And any doses of the three main COVID vaccines provide more protection than no doses at all, the CDC director has said.
Omicron has already usurped the delta variant as the most dominant COVID strain in the United States, accounting for nearly three-quarters of all new cases last week, officials say. There was nearly a six-fold increase in omicron's share of new U.S. infections in just a week, according to the CDC.
New York City data only has omicron representing 1% of all genetically sequenced cases, but so few positive samples are tested like that (3.6% statewide) that the actual count is likely far higher, officials say. The positivity rates the five boroughs have experienced so far this month reflect the heightened contagiousness of omicron, which is said to replicate up to 70 times faster in airways than delta.
As New York City's top doctor recently said, "Omicron has proven to be the fastest, fittest and most formidable COVID-19 variant due to its ability to evade the immune system, meaning that those who’ve already had COVID and those who are vaccinated are more likely to be infected with omicron compared to past variants."
While early data has shown this variant may be more vaccine-resistant than earlier COVID strains, accounting in part for rising rates of breakthrough infections, all existing vaccines provide more protection against the variant than no vaccine -- and booster shots multiply that protection considerably, the drugmakers have said.
Moderna was the latest to supply evidence on that front Monday regarding its COVID vaccine booster and omicron. Pfizer has said its booster is highly effective while AstraZeneca reported last week its antibody cocktail, Evusheld, retained effectiveness against omicron. More analyses on that treatment are expected soon.
Meanwhile, statewide COVID rates are at nearly year-long highs. New York did not set a new daily case record Tuesday, ending its four-day streak.
Virus hospitalizations, though, jumped by roughly 8% overnight to 4,328, marking the highest total since April 7 as Gov. Kathy Hochul added another 308 admissions to the count Tuesday. Nearly 800 of those patients are in intensive care.
The vast majority of the state's COVID hospitalizations are among the unvaccinated. While about 1% of all New York residents have tested positive in the last 10 days, Hochul and others continue to stress COVID vaccinations and boosters remain highly effective and preventing severe illness and death linked to the disease.
"Cases are rising due to the winter surge, but this is not March 2020 - we knew this was coming and New York is taking action to make vaccines, boosters, and testing more widely available," Hochul said in a statement Tuesday. "We know what works - get vaccinated, get the booster, mask up, and exercise caution in indoor public spaces. Now is the time for all of us to do our part and help protect those more vulnerable to make sure we all get through this holiday season safely."
Hochul said that she spoke with President Joe Biden on how best to address the surge, and that additional personnel will be coming to help out. She also said that new mass testing sites will be opening, "including the first one to be operational in New York City before Christmas," and that she talked with Biden about sending rapid tests directedly to homes.
De Blasio said the federal government is expected to help set up more testing sites in New York City and the city will increase its city run sites, including brick-and-mortar locations and mobile testing vans.
The issue of testing continued to rear its head on Tuesday, as many locations throughout the city saw another day of long lines and delayed returns on testing results. According to a source close to New York Sen. Chuck Schumer, several mobile federal testing sites will be in Queens on Wednesday, some of which aim to be up and running right away. The others will be operational starting Thursday, and will be closed for the holiday for two days, before reopening for seven days a week, the source said.
The locations of the mobile testing units was not immediately clear, but there will be at least one in Flushing and East Elmhurst.