In Brooklyn, New York, on March 7, 2022, children go to school on the first day they carry a closed-door mask mandate for DOE schools under 12.
Brendan McDermid | Reuters
New York City may revoke vaccination mandates and documents confirming its status for visits to restaurants, bars and other facilities, if the adoption of the Covid mask rises to the level of vaccination, according to the city’s health official.
The city raised Covid’s alert level from low to medium earlier this week as infections exceeded 200 per 100,000 people, from the infectious omicron of sub-variant BA.2. So far, health officials are asking residents to voluntarily wear masks indoors and exercise before and after meetings.
However, Health Commissioner Ashwin Wasan said that if New York raises Covey’s warning level, New York could resume mandatory masks and vaccine testing.
“If we move to a high-risk and vigilant environment, it is clear that we are seriously considering restoring those mandates,” Vasan told CNBC on Tuesday.
The New York warning system is based on new levels of Covid community by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which triggers safety protocols based on hospitalization rates and per capita infection rates. If the number of hospitalizations reaches 10 patients per 100,000 people, or the number of inpatient beds reaches an average of 10% for seven days, the city will be at a high level of vigilance.
The number of hospitalizations and beds is increasing; As of April 31, seven of the 100,000 people in New York were hospitalized with Covid, and as of that date, they had about 3% of the hospital beds.
“In order to move to a higher risk category, we need to see these levels rise to the appropriate level,” said Vasan. “I think the choices we make now will be crucial.”
Mayor Eric Adams completed mandatory vaccine testing in restaurants and other indoor facilities in early March as Covid infection dropped from the height of the omicron wave. Adams also removed the mask mandate for students in public schools and kindergartens up to 12th grade. Children under the age of 5 are still required to wear masks at school, but the mandate has been the subject of litigation. Infants and preschoolers are the only age group in the United States that is not eligible for vaccination.
Infections and hospitalizations in the city fell by 90% from the peak of the omicron wave in early January. According to Vasan, the city is moving from a special phase of the pandemic to an endemic phase, where the virus does not cause much harm to society. But before he could actually declare a pandemic, the city should see a long period of Cowid’s low prevalence, he said.
“Between the end of the Omicron wave and the beginning of the current wave, we had a month of relatively low transmission,” Vasan said. “I want to see – it’s a long period of little transmission.”
Despite a federal court ruling last month revoking the CDC’s public transit mask mandate, masks are still in demand on New York’s subways, buses and railroads. Although New York State controls the city’s public transportation, Vasan said the city will support the mandate until Kovid’s infection is reduced.
“Ventilation without spending a long time underground, without a bus, or with airplane ventilation is ventilation with a high risk of contracting the virus,” Vasan said.
It is unknown when the city will enter a period of low supply. Many epidemiologists expect an increase in infections in the fall, as the cold weather encourages people to spend more time at home. According to Vasan, New York City has a high wall of immunity against Covid, with nearly 80 percent of the population vaccinated, but that protection weakens over time and the option of escaping immunity can always occur.
“We don’t know what the fall will bring,” the health commissioner said, but he didn’t expect the omicron level to rise. “I would be very surprised if we saw something like an omicron again,” he said.
But the city needs to be prepared for the possibility of a future uprising, Vasan said. He urged Congress to provide additional Covid funding, saying the city depends on federal support for additional vaccines and expanding access to antiviral treatments such as Pfizer’s Paxlovid.
“Now is not the time to turn it back,” Vasan said. “The pandemic is certainly not over.”