NEW YORK — With COVID-19 cases spiking in New York City, city officials said Wednesday they’re opening more testing sites and restricting visiting at city-run hospitals and jails.
At the same time, Mayor Bill de Blasio said no decision had been made to ban people from the annual New Year’s Eve celebration in Times Square — even as Fox said it was canceling its live broadcast.
There were more than 13,700 positive tests in the city on Monday, a massive surge from just a week before, when the city was averaging fewer than 3,600 new cases of COVID-19.
De Blasio said the city was opening seven additional testing sites on Wednesday, increasing its total to 119, and will set up five distribution sites Thursday to hand out at-home rapid tests.
The news of more city-run testing sites came as CityMD, the privately run chain of urgent care clinics, said it was temporarily closing 13 city locations, saying it was doing so “to preserve our ability to staff our sites.”
The chain has seen testing lines wrapping around city blocks and wait times of several hours.
The city is limiting visitation at city-run hospitals, with some exceptions for pregnant people, children and hospice patients, and moving from in-person visits to televisits at city jails, where the COVID positivity rate has soared from 1% to 17% in the last 10 days.
The city’s jails commissioner, Vincent Schiraldi, sent a letter to judges Tuesday asking them to consider alternatives to incarceration, writing that inmates face “an equal or greater level of risk” as at the start of the pandemic.
According to Schiraldi, just 45% of city inmates have received one dose of the vaccine, and only 38% are fully vaccinated. In comparison, at least 90% of city adults have received one dose of the vaccine and more than 82% are considered fully vaccinated.
De Blasio says ‘No more shutdowns’
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said he’s committed to keeping the city open as it grapples with a huge spike in coronavirus cases.
The Democrat said Tuesday that New York can’t see schools and businesses close again like they did when COVID-19 first hit the city in 2020.
De Blasio has faced questions over the past week about whether he would reinstate closures as the omicron variant surges in the city.
“Adamantly I feel this: No more shutdowns. We’ve been through them,” de Blasio said at a virtual news conference Tuesday. “They were devastating. We can’t go through it again.”
De Blasio, in the waning days of his term as mayor, 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.
While the fate of the outdoor New Year’s Eve event remained up in the air, De Blasio’s successor Eric Adams postponed his inauguration ceremony, scheduled for Jan. 1 indoors at Brooklyn’s Kings Theatre.
The mayor-elect issued a statement Tuesday saying that the ceremony would be rescheduled for a later date “to prioritize” the health of attendees, staff and reporters.
“It is clear that our city is facing a formidable opponent in the omicron variant of COVID-19, and that the spike in cases presents a serious risk to public health,” Adams said.
Two other Democratic officials, the city’s Comptroller-elect Brad Lander and Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, were also to participate in the ceremony and co-signed Adams’ statement announcing its postponement. Williams has been quarantining at home after recently testing positive for COVID-19.
Adams will still take over as mayor on Jan. 1. His spokesperson, Evan Thies, said it would take a lot for the mayor-elect to shut down New York City again.
“He believes that we can balance the priorities of public health and keeping New York open in a safe and responsible way as we aggressively address the Omicron threat with more vaccinations, boosters and testing,” Thies said.
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.
De Blasio said the city is ramping up testing but the biggest tool to fight the pandemic remains vaccinations. De Blasio announced the city would begin offering a $100 cash incentive to New Yorkers who get a booster shot of the COVID-19 vaccine starting Tuesday and going through the end of the year.
The city had previously offered similar incentives for people to get their first vaccine doses.
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.
As recently as Dec. 13, the city had been averaging fewer than 3,600 new cases of COVID-19 each day. But after nearly 63,500 people tested positive in just five days, the average daily number of infections had climbed to nearly 11,000 as of Monday — an increase of 207% in a week.