NYC Covid-19 Hospitalizations, Rise in Deaths, Spread of Omicron B.2.12.1

New York City (NYC) deals with higher level stuff. On Monday, an upsurge in Covid-19 cases prompted the city to increase its Covid-19 alert level from “Level 1: Low” to “Level 2: Medium”. However, cases are not the only thing that is increasing. Over the past 14 days, the daily averages of new reported Covid-19 cases (8,259 per day over the past week), hospitalizations (2,421 per day over the past week) and deaths (17 per day over the past week) jumped up 28%, 38%, and 24%, respectively, according to New York Times.

Obviously, this is not good news. Here’s a tweet from the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH) about “leveling up,” so to speak:

What fueled this revival of area code 212 as well as other New York area codes? Well, the highly contagious B.2.12.1 Omicron subvariant has spread. Based on Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Covid data tracking, this subvariant is now present in approximately 36.5% of all active Covid-19 cases. While the BA.2 is still the “alpha dog” of all variants in the US, accounting for around 61.9% of all cases, that may soon change.

Before laying all the blame on this new variant, keep in mind that the number of new Covid-19 cases reported per 100,000 people in the past seven days has been trending upward since early March. NYC’s “Covid-19: Latest Data” webpage shows that this number for all of NYC has now exceeded 200 at 242.2. Of New York’s five boroughs, Manhattan tops the list with 328.48, followed by Queens (257.25), Staten Island (251.19), Brooklyn (228.88), and the Bronx (140. 18).

So what happened in early March? Well, that was around the time Covid-19 precautions such as face masks and vaccination requirements were dropped, as Candace McCowan reported for ABC News 7 March 7. The fear at the time was that such “poop” would turn out to be premature relaxation, as I covered for Forbes. And as you know (or may have heard), premature things can create some pretty messy situations. After all, by early March, severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) had yet to be brought under control, Covid-19 recall rates hadn’t even hit the 40% mark, and, of course, new, more contagious Omicron sub-variants continued to emerge. Amid all of this, the lifting of face masks and vaccination requirements may have sent the wrong message to the public. Heck, people were even claiming the pandemic was sort of over, which was next-level stuff indeed.

Speaking of levels, medium is the second of NYC’s four Covid-19 alert levels. In this case, levels are like golf scores, bad Tinder dates, or the number of times a groundhog puts a bowling ball in your pants. The higher the number, the worse things are. The highest level marked in red is “very high”, which means “there is very high community spread of Covid-19. Health services are overwhelmed. Obviously, being “very high” is not good, at least in this case.

The next highest level is level 3, the “high” level, marked in orange, because in orange you are implementing more Covid-19 precautions? At this level, “there is a strong community spread. Significant pressure on the health system.It wouldn’t be the same as a doctor saying, “You’re about to feel a little pressure.” This means hospitals are full and overwhelmed, which could threaten those who do not have Covid-19 but need urgent medical attention.

As mentioned earlier, level 2 is the “medium” level, which implies that “there is medium community spread of Covid-19”. And the “low” level is level 1, which is in place when “there is lower community spread”. Remember that the number of new reported Covid-19 cases is a very imperfect measure. It highly depends on who actually gets tested and whether the results are reported. For example, people with less access to testing may be walking around infected with SARS-CoV-2 without even knowing it. Additionally, reported cases of Covid-19 typically delay actual transmission by a week to several weeks, as people do not tend to get tested as soon as they are infected, as SARS-CoV-2 does not usually doesn’t say “I’m here” as soon as it enters your body. Therefore, when the alert level is on “Medium”, there is no guarantee that things are not already at a higher level.

So what does “average” mean? Well, NYC Health Commissioner Ashwin Vasan, MD, PhD tweeted the following recommendations:

As you can see by the tweet above and the tier change announcement, the NYC DOHMH recommends that everyone “wear a face covering in indoor public places.” Recommending is not the same as demanding. Imagine what would happen if the payment of taxes were recommended rather than compulsory. You would actually have people running away without paying taxes. OK, maybe that wasn’t a good example.

Either way, with so many people ditching face masks as if they were made of bedbugs and leeches, it’s unclear what percentage of people will end up heeding these recommendations. NYC DOHMH also suggests switching to higher quality masks, such as a KN95, KF94, or N95 respirator or a surgical mask with a cloth mask over it. The announcement said that if the alert level were raised to “high,” the city would “consider requiring face masks in all public indoor environments.”

A second recommendation from NYC DOHMH is to stay “up to date” on the Covid-19 vaccination. This means not only getting vaccinated, but also getting boosted. With declining immunity and reduced effectiveness of Covid-19 vaccines against Omicron variants, simply being fully vaccinated without being boosted can be a bit like wearing a thong without pants or a skirt. It can expose you a little too much, something that others around you don’t want to see. As of May 6, only 37.6% of NYC’s population had received at least one Covid-19 booster, according to the NYC Covid-19 Data webpage.

Another NYC DOHMH recommendation is to get tested whenever you have symptoms of Covid-19 or have been exposed to SARS-CoV-2. They recommend staying home if you are sick or may have recently been exposed to SARS-CoV-2 instead of shouting “freedom” and potentially spreading the virus to many more people.

Oh, and the NYC DOHMH reminds you to wash your hands frequently with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, which is about the time it takes to play the first chorus of the Divinyls song. “I Touch Myself”. Soap and water are best, but if not available, you can use hand sanitizer. Of course, the handwashing reminder should not apply only to pandemic times. Don’t be one of those people who says, “I can’t wait for the pandemic to be over so I can stop this handwashing thing.”

Will this increase in Covid-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths evolve into a new surge of Covid-19? The answer is unclear at this time and depends on the precautions taken. Even if a surge does eventually occur, it probably won’t be as large as that seen last winter. Nevertheless, it would be a good idea to maintain Covid-19 precautions such as wearing face masks and social distancing for the time being. After all, Covid-19 precautions are more effective at preventing a flare-up from happening before it actually happens. Once the cat is out of the bag, the horse is out of the stable, the ferret is in the disco, and the virus is out of its nose and mouth, there is much less to do.

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