New York City suddenly scrapped its color-coded coronavirus alert system on Thursday, as new Omicron subvariants fuel a further rise in cases and hospitalizations.
Mayor Eric Adams and health officials quietly scrapped the city’s high-profile alert system that warned New Yorkers when they were at greater risk of catching the virus and should consider taking more precautions .
Now the city’s website reads: ‘We are reassessing the city’s Covid alert system. Check back here for updates in the coming weeks.
Hospitalizations in the city have also increased, from 725 people hospitalized with the virus in early June to 877 people now, according to state data.
The fast-spreading Omicron subvariants known as BA.4 and BA.5 accounted for about 46% of virus cases in the city as of June 18, and those numbers are growing, according to city data.
BA.4 and BA.5 are able to evade some of the antibodies produced after vaccinations and coronavirus infections, including infections caused by some earlier versions of Omicron. But there is not yet much evidence that they cause more serious illnesses.
The city’s health commissioner, Dr Ashwin Vasan, on Thursday defended his decision to scrap the alert system and said the city was “reassessing” its approach, although he did not give details on what the city could do instead.
“While we continue to see a lot of transmission here in New York, we are also in a different phase of the pandemic that requires new analytical tools to match our risk assessments and communications with reality,” said the Dr. Vasan at a press conference. conference in Manhattan to announce new mobile testing units that will provide antiviral treatments.
Fabien Levy, a spokesperson for the mayor, said in a statement Friday that the city still intends to periodically reassess the alert system as conditions change and that Dr. Vasan proactively mentioned the change. during the press conference.
“What we’ve seen recently is bouncing between alert levels, which doesn’t provide clear or helpful information to New Yorkers,” Levy said. “All Covid-19 indicators continue to be updated on the Department of Health website and we will continue to communicate our recommendations clearly.”
Even though virus infections nationwide are considered underreported, BA.4 and BA.5 together became dominant among new US cases, according to new estimates released this week by the CDC BA.4 accounted for 15, 7% of new cases, and BA .5 was at 36.6%, figures that experts say are expected to rise in the coming weeks.
Federal regulators recently recommended that coronavirus vaccine makers update their recalls to target BA.4 and BA.5, despite uncertainty about the form of the virus that may circulate later this year.
New York’s ‘Alert Levels’ website said on Friday the city was facing high levels of transmission and residents should continue to wear masks in indoor public places and around crowds outdoors and test before and after trips or gatherings.
Private businesses and schools relied on the city’s alert system to make decisions about requiring masks in offices and classrooms. Without guidance from the city on the increasing level of risk, organizations will have to monitor the data to make decisions for themselves.
Under the color-coded alert system introduced by Mr Adams in March, certain health policy measures were recommended at each level of risk. At the high risk level, the mayor was encouraged to require face masks in all public indoor places and bring back a vaccination mandate for restaurants and bars that was in place under the last mayor, Bill de Blasio.
When the city reached the high risk level in May, Mr. Adams chose not to reintroduce the mask and vaccine mandates. Mr. Adams, a Democrat who took office in January, focused on reopening the city and convincing workers to return to Manhattan, and he argued that only a significant increase in hospitalizations would prompt a more aggressive action.
From Friday, Broadway theaters will be allowed to drop their mask mandates, and Mr Adams recently scrapped a mask mandate for toddlers.
Dr. Jay Varma, an epidemiologist and former senior health adviser to Mr. de Blasio, said on Friday he believed a wave of BA.5 was starting in the city and that health officials should provide advice clearer to New Yorkers on how to change their behavior during regular press briefings.
“I fear the removal of the alert system is a sign that the city prefers to wait until there is a marked increase in serious illness and death before considering further action,” Dr Varma said.
Mr Adams attended the press conference this week on mobile testing sites offering Paxlovid, and he visited a vaccination site for children under 5 last week as they began to receive injections. But the mayor has not held regular press briefings to update New Yorkers on the virus as Mr. de Blasio has.
Some other cities still seem to rely on color-coded alert systems to describe Covid levels. Chicago, for example, entered the “high” — or amber — tier last month due to rising coronavirus cases and hospitalizations in Cook County. Los Angeles County is currently in the medium – or yellow – level, reflecting a lower rate of new Covid hospitalizations than Cook County or New York.
The color-coded systems are based on CDC-defined metrics that incorporate data on new cases and hospitalizations. In Los Angeles, officials have indicated that indoor masking will be required if the county enters the “high” tier.
Joseph Goldstein contributed report.
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