NYC adds testing; no decision on Times Square New Year's Eve

Michael R. Sisak
Associated Press

New York— With COVID-19 cases spiking in New York City, city officials said Wednesday they’re opening more testing sites, restricting visiting at city-run hospitals and jails, and again telling police officers to mask up.

At the same time, Mayor Bill de Blasio said no decision had been made on banning people from the annual New Year’s Eve celebration in Times Square — even as Fox said it was canceling its live broadcast because of concerns about the omicron variant.

“The preference is to keep it on, it’s an important event for the city,” de Blasio told MSNBC, adding that revelers would have to show vaccination proof and that officials were weighing other precautions.

There were more than 13,700 positive tests in the city Monday, a sharp increase from a week earlier, when the city averaged fewer than 3,600 new cases. Still, because of widespread vaccination, hospitalizations and deaths from the virus are far fewer than at the pandemic's height.

Dr. Mitchell Katz, CEO of the city’s hospital system, said the 11 city-run hospitals had a total of 54 COVID patients in intensive care as of Wednesday — up from 20 a few weeks ago, but a mere fraction of the 970 ICU patients at the peak in March 2020.

De Blasio said the city was opening seven additional testing sites Wednesday, increasing its total to 119, and will set up five distribution sites on Thursday to hand out at-home rapid COVID-19 tests, which have been hard to come by at pharmacies.

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 “to preserve our ability to staff our sites.” CityMD has seen testing lines wrapping around city blocks and wait times of several hours.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, who joined de Blasio at his news conference Wednesday and was honored with a key to the city, said he's asking the federal government to send the city 100 mobile testing sites.

“Today they said they’re sending six. That ain’t close to enough,” Schumer said.

New measures to curb the spread of COVID include requiring police officers to wear masks indoors and outdoors when interacting with the public. The NYPD has a vaccine mandate, but officers are still getting sick — with about twice as many out Tuesday as on an average day.

The city is also temporarily limiting visitation at city-run hospitals, with 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 in the last 10 days from 1% to 17%.

Jail Commissioner Vincent Schiraldi sent a letter Tuesday asking judges to consider alternatives to incarceration, writing that all indications suggest 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 gotten one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, and only 38% are fully vaccinated. In comparison, at least 90% of city adults have received one dose and more than 82% of adults are considered fully vaccinated.