New York City, the largest city in the United States, raised its COVID-19 alert level from "medium" to "high" on Tuesday, as infections continue to go up in recent weeks.
The rating means there is a high COVID-19 community spread and pressure on the health care system in the city is substantial.
"New York City has transitioned to a high COVID alert level, meaning now is the time to double down on protecting ourselves and each other by making choices that can keep our friends, neighbours, relatives and coworkers from getting sick," said Dr Ashwin Vasan, the city's health commissioner.
The guidance requires New Yorkers to wear a face mask in all public indoor settings and crowded outdoor settings and consider avoiding higher-risk activities.
New York City raised its COVID-19 alert level to "medium" from "low" in early May.
For two months now there has been a persistent rise in known infections, driven almost entirely by Omicron subvariants. In recent days, the city logged on average more than 3,500 new daily cases, although those numbers significantly understate the virus’s prevalence, as many infections are detected by at-home tests but never counted by the health authorities.
The city on Friday reported a seven-day coronavirus positivity rate average of 9.1% — up from 6.28% recorded at the beginning of May and about 2.75% in early April.
But the city’s hospitalization level is significantly lower than the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, when state data shows an astounding 11,277 people were hospitalized in the five boroughs on April 15 that year compared to 715 on May 15 this year.
And while hospitalizations are slightly up compared to this point in 2021, when 670 COVID patients were in Big Apple hospitals, according to state figures, at the end of last week, the city Health Department reported a seven-day COVID-19 death average of four — down from five recorded on May 1.
In addition, many of those being reported as positive in hospitals were admitted for other reasons. Statewide, of 2,497 patients who tested positive for COVID-19 and are currently hospitalized, only 47.5% or 1,185 patients have COVID complications or illness, data shows.
The COVID-19 subvariant estimated by New York state health officials to be substantially more contagious than the first descendant of the potent omicron strain now accounts for up to 79.5% of all virus circulating in the region that encompasses the Empire State, according to new CDC data released Tuesday.
Prevalence of BA.2.12.1, which health officials say appears to be at least 25% more transmissible than BA.2 (which is said to be more 30% more contagious than its predecessor, omicron), in the agency's New York region has been increasing at a far faster rate than nationally for the last month at least, the latest weekly update shows.
The CDC puts it at 73.1% (with a range from 65.7% to 79.5%) of COVID cases in the New York region, which for its purposes also includes New Jersey, Puerto Rico and the British Virgin Islands, though says BA.2.12.1's share of cases could be higher.
That subvariant has been the dominant strain locally since the start of May, while the first omicron variant, BA.2., has retained its national dominance in recent weeks (50.9% of cases vs. 47.5% for BA.2.12.1).
Given the latest trends, though, BA.2.12.1 should assert its dominance in the United States before the end of this month, according to the CDC.