NYC Tweaks Mask Rules for City Workers; Top Docs Look to Calm Delta Concerns

Core viral rates in New York, the one-time epicenter of the pandemic, continue to fall despite concerns about the more contagious delta strain

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What to Know

  • NYC is modifying its mask and social distancing rules for city workers in offices; those who are vaccinated can ditch both precautions
  • Unvaccinated city workers and workers interacting with the public have to keep their masks on for now; all city agencies must implement the changed guidance by next Tuesday
  • Mayor Bill de Blasio says he expects city offices to get fully back to normal in September, meaning no more strict COVID protocol; he'll only permit that if the CDC approves the changes, though

Vaccinated New York City workers can ditch their masks and stop social distancing in the office starting Tuesday, Mayor Bill de Blasio said. And he hopes to restore full normalcy -- no masks for anyone, no strict COVID precautions -- for city offices in September if federal CDC guidance by then supports those changes.

In the meantime, unvaccinated city workers and workers interacting with the public must continue to wear masks, de Blasio said. All city agencies are required to implement the changes by July 6, in exactly one week.

The first floods of municipal workers began going back to city offices in early May, as the five boroughs and nation continued to scale up vaccination rollouts. The COVID outlook at all levels has improved significantly since, arming elected officials with the public health data they need to more acutely focus on economic revival.

To date, 62.2% of New York City adults are fully vaccinated, according to state data, while 68.6% have had at least one dose. Those numbers at the state level are a bit higher -- 65.1% and 72%, respectively, according to CDC data.

Even though the pace of vaccinations has slowed across the board in the last month and a half, core viral rates have sustained their pandemic lows.

New York's single-day COVID death toll fell to three on Monday and held there Tuesday, tying for the lowest daily counts since Sept. 28, 2020, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said, while statewide hospitalizations remain well below their opening threshold at the onset of the pandemic.

Hospitalizations, a key metric watched by state health officials in tracking the spread of the virus since the spring of 2020, have been on a steady decline since the introduction of federally approved vaccines.

New York reported a record-low number of hospitalizations on Sunday of 330, a 41-patient decline from the record-low set the day before. By Tuesday, that number was back up to 362. Prior to these last four days, no fewer than 410 COVID patients had been hospitalized statewide since that metric started to be reported daily.

New York's longstanding COVID-19 State of Emergency expires on Thursday -- and so too does a popular program that many are sad to see go. Erica Byfield reports.

"New York state is getting closer to defeating the COVID-19 pandemic for good every single day, but vaccinations remain key to our success and we need New Yorkers to step up and take the shot," Cuomo said in a statement Tuesday. "We're continuing to offer exciting incentives to people who take the vaccine across the state, and I encourage New Yorkers to take advantage of those opportunities."

"Getting vaccinated protects your friends, family and community, so everyone who hasn't taken the shot yet should do so today," the governor added.

Cuomo has been touting positive trends in the Empire State for weeks as positivity rates plummet and the state's seven-day average dropped to the lowest in the entire country earlier this month, according to Johns Hopkins.

News of improving hospitalizations in New York follows the end of Cuomo's longstanding COVID-19 state of emergency. That wrapped last week after 474 days.

The shift in public health policy comes as more than 10 million New Yorkers have completed their vaccine series but officials warn of a quickly spreading new variant that poses a severe threat to those who have yet to get inoculated.

New health department data out Friday shows the presence of the so-called delta COVID variant in New York City has nearly doubled since officials' previous report.

As of Friday, the delta variant that first devastated India before spreading globally -- and is thought to be up to 60% more transmissible than the first widely tracked contagious variant that emerged in the U.K. last year -- accounts for 10.3% of citywide samples tested in the last four weeks. That's up from 5.6% in city officials' previous report and up from 4.9% in the health department report before that.

The Delta variant of the coronavirus accounts for 10% of new U.S. cases and is known to spread more easily and cause more severe disease.

Given the relatively minute subset of positive samples that are genetically sequenced to assess potential strain variations, both CDC and local New York City experts believe the prevalence of delta to be significantly higher than reported.

Asked about delta again Monday and on Tuesday, de Blasio said New York City continues to monitor the delta variant closely and does "take it seriously." Still, he said, the five boroughs' core viral rates continue to move in the right direction.

Existing vaccines appear to be highly protective against that strain and others, health officials say. Last week, the city expanded its in-home vaccination program to everyone in an effort to make the process even more convenient.

"The fact that people are vaccinated is the best way to ensure all of us are protected. This is the time to do it," NYC Health + Hospitals CEO Dr. Mitchell Katz reiterated on Tuesday.

Not sure how the process works? Check out our handy tri-state vaccine site finder and FAQs here

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

NYC Health Commissioner Dr. Dave Chokshi echoed that point clearly as he said, "If you've been waiting to get vaccinated, this is one more reason why you should run, not walk, to get your vaccine. We know that every single dose is another brick in the wall against not just the delta variant but all the variants of the virus."

Over in New Jersey, delta accounts for 15.6% of recent samples tested, up from 7.3% in the state's previous report. The message around vaccinations and variants is the same on that side of the river. Gov. Phil Murphy has repeatedly declared COVID-19 at this point to be a "pandemic of the unvaccinated" in his state.

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