New York officials reported 21,027 new cases of coronavirus on Friday, the highest day-on-day total since the early days of the pandemic, when testing availability was not as widespread as it is now.
The data, which reflected Thursday’s test results, showed a dramatic change in the presence of the virus in New York City. For weeks, the number of cases had steadily increased, mainly due to a winter flare brought on by the Delta variant. But the spike in recent days is due to the rapidly spreading Omicron variant, epidemiologists say.
Dr Wafaa El-Sadr, professor of epidemiology at Columbia University, said that so far, the Omicron variant appeared to infect more people in New York than in other parts of the country.
âIn that sense, it kind of reminds me of March 2020,â she said. “We’re taking the first wave of Omicron in this country, and like the last time in New York City, we’ll basically be the proving ground for what this variant does.”
Cases of the virus in the state have increased 56% in the past 14 days, and hospitalizations, although well below peaks of the past two years, have increased by 25% in the same period, according to the tracker. from the New York Times. By Thursday, the state’s positivity rate had climbed to almost 8 percent.
Rising cases, Governor Kathy Hochul said friday, “is a reminder that the pandemic is not yet over and that we must take extra precautions to ensure our safety and that of others.”
Earlier this week, in a bid to curb the spread of the virus – especially with winter and the holiday season close at hand and many people planning to travel and spend more time indoors – Ms Hochul imposed a statewide mandate requiring masks to be worn to all public indoor spaces that do not require proof of full vaccination against the virus for entry.
In a high-profile sign of the wave’s impact on life in New York City, the producers of Radio City Music Hall‘s lasting Christmas show starring the Rockettes said Friday night they would end the race. of this season entirely on “the growing challenges of the pandemic”.
The announcement follows the cancellation of performances of a number of Broadway shows and decisions by some New York colleges to cancel certain activities or to conduct final exams remotely.
In another effort to contain the spread of the virus, Ms Hochul also said state officials plan to change the definition of fully vaccinated to include receiving a booster dose.
“The people who are definitely eligible, we want them to do that, but, in terms of the requirement, we just have to make sure that we adapt to that required flexibility, but we will get there,” the governor said in a statement. interview. on CNN. She noted that people who had been recently vaccinated were not yet eligible to receive booster shots.
In New York in recent days, the number of cases has doubled from a week ago.
“This big leap, which only happens when something big changes and the one big thing that has changed in the whole city is Omicron,” said Dr Denis Nash, professor of epidemiology at the CUNY School of Public Health. However, there is little reliable and up-to-date data showing what percentage of new cases in the city are caused by the variant.
Mayor Bill de Blasio urged New Yorkers to get vaccinated early.
“People need to get vaccinated now, get that booster now,” he said Thursday. âIf they’re not feeling well, get tested now. It is an urgent situation.
On Thursday, the mayor announced a plan to deal with the rising number of cases by distributing, among other things, one million free KN95 masks and 500,000 home tests, more rigorously enforcing mask and vaccine mandates and by increasing the hours and capacity of city testing. sites.
Many New Yorkers have been rushing to get home test kits lately, with some stores sold out, and lines of people waiting at some testing sites have wrapped around blocks. The Omicron variant has spread in New York City, including among those vaccinated.
“Two of my friends who are vaccinated – one who was boosted – only had Covid last week,” said Gene Goldstein-Plesser, 32, as he waited to get tested at a site run by the city of the Fort Greene section of Brooklyn on Thursday. “I literally just got an email saying that a party I was going to go to this weekend has been canceled.”
Mr Goldstein-Plesser said the hardest part of the increase was “getting back into those horrible calculations, like, where are you willing to take risks?” And where are you not prepared to take risks in your own life? “
The single-day case count announced on Friday may not be the highest in the pandemic, as a number of virus cases were not reported early on when the testing infrastructure was not not fully in place. But it’s still clear that cases have increased dramatically in the state.
The Omicron variant appears to be spreading rapidly among vaccinated and unvaccinated people. Nowhere is this clearer than at Cornell University in Ithaca, where 99% of students on campus have been vaccinated against the virus.
Still, the number of cases among the student body has skyrocketed this week. There was 1,567 student cases in the seven-day period that ended Thursday, out of more than 26,000 students. The positivity rate was over 7%.
Only a fraction of the positive cases are analyzed to determine whether they are Delta, Omicron or some other variant. But in Tompkins County, which includes Ithaca, about 117 cases of Omicron have been detected, more than in any other county, according to the governor’s office.
Cornell officials moved the campus to ‘red alert level’ for the first time in the past three semesters after an increase in the number of cases, introducing a number of security measures, including moving final exams to line and the cancellation of a graduation ceremony in December. New York University, also facing a big increase, canceled “non-essential” gatherings this week.
Matt stevens contributed reports.