Get vaccinated and boosted now. New York leaders are echoing that message loud and clear as the latest surge in positive cases sweeps through the country with only one week to go before the Christmas holiday.
Gov. Kathy Hochul is pushing vaccinations and boosters as her state breaks single-day cases record for a second day. On Saturday, her daily report showed nearly 22,000 people in the state had tested positive for COVID-19, just one day after setting a new record for the first time in 11 months.
"This is not like the beginning of the pandemic. We are prepared for the winter surge because we have the tools at our disposal," Hochul said in her press release Saturday. "Getting vaccinated, getting the booster and wearing a mask are critical to avoiding getting seriously ill from COVID-19, so don't take a chance."
The 21,908 new infections came from a pot of 290,930 tests completed statewide. Hospitalizations across New York are seeing a small increase, but still remain well below half of what was reported back in January.
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Travel for some is already underway as millions of people prepare to see loved ones for the December holiday, a possibility not available to most Americans last year when vaccines had only just been approved and were not yet widely accessible.
"We will continue to work with local partners to make vaccines, boosters and testing more widely available. Let's all celebrate the holiday season with our friends and family safely this year," Hochul added.
Top health officials and elected leaders are reiterating the message that vaccines and booster shots remain one of the greatest defenses against the oncoming winter surge that appears to already be on the country's front doorstep.
In an effort to bolster current vaccination efforts, the governor on Firday announced plans to expand the state's vaccine operations by adding an additional 40 pop-up locations across the state. The announcement came the same day New York reported its highest single-day total of positive cases, crushing the previous record set back in January when hospitalizations where more than twice what they are now.
A handful of the sites are coming on line this weekend, with the rest set to be operational in the coming weeks, Hochul said. Find the full list of pop-up sites here.
According to the CDC, roughly 25% of the state's population has received a booster dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. That accounts for roughly 3.7 million New Yorkers.
"By making a plan to visit one of these Pop-Ups that is convenient for you and your family, you are helping to keep your family and all New Yorkers safe," Acting Health Commissioner Dr. Mary Bassett added.
New York's previous record for positive cases in a single day, set 11 months ago on Jan. 14, crumbled when Hochul announced 21,027 new positive cases statewide Friday. The old record for most reported cases in a single day was 19,942, when reported hospitalizations were on the brink of 9,000. Now, the number of people admitted is down by more than half.
“This is changing so quickly. The numbers are going up exponentially by day,” Gov. Kathy Hochul said during a Friday appearance on CNN.
New York reported close to the same number of tests taken last Friday, but of that batch (over 260,000), there were 10,000 less positive cases one week ago. Also, when you compare hospitalizations to one week ago, the number of people in hospitals for COVID-19 has risen by about 300, reflecting an increase of 8%.
The steep rise in infections should be of great concern but it was inevitable, given the quick spread of the newest variant, said Dr. Denis Nash, the executive director of the Institute for Implementation Science in Population Health at the City University of New York.
“We were already headed for a winter surge with delta, which is a very concerning thing in its own right,” Nash said.
“But then you layer on top of that the new omicron variant, which is more transmissible from an infection standpoint,” he said, noting that current vaccines may be unable to contain the “more invasive” new variant.
And in New York City, where testing lines have wrapped around blocks and people report wait times well over an hour, 10,286 positive cases were reported Friday. That total is up 20% from the previous day, and 100% from two days earlier. It's also the highest reported testing day for the city since the beginning of the pandemic, and the first time the city saw more than 10,000 cases in a single day.
But once again, city hospitalization numbers remain low. At the height of the pandemic, on average there were 1,600 patients being treated at city hospitals for COVID. In Dec. 2020, there were just 243; as of Monday, NYC hospitalizations were at just 43 — a 97 percent decrease from the pandemic peak.
"The omicron symptoms have been very mild. The impact on those vaccinated has been clinically mild. It's not converting to admissions to the hospital, or deaths," said Dr. Yves Duroseau, Emergency Services Director at Lenox Hill Hospital.
Despite what appear to be milder COVID cases caused by the omicron variant, some of the world's top experts worry the variant is so transmissible, that it may yet still tax our region's hospital system. Columbia University's Dr. David Ho estimates that the average person infected with the omicron variant to five others — and said that the U.S. need only look across the pond to see what still may be in store.
"The UK surge is bigger than any that they have seen before. Good modeling and data is a week or two behind — that's what we need to prepare for a surge worse than what we've seen before," Dr. Ho said.
In an effort to combat both the delta and omicron variants, the state is rushing to acquire millions of at-home tests for New Yorkers living in communities with lower vaccine rates. On CNN Friday, the governor confirmed 1 million cases were already in hand with another 2 million on the way.