Governor Kathy Hochul warned that the winter COVID-19 surge driving a rise in infections is upon the state, and she urged New Yorkers to get their shots or boosters and mask up.
“It is upon us. That winter surge is in full force and I believe it’s going to get even stronger and more virulent, and we are in for a rough ride this winter season,” said Hochul during a briefing at the capitol in Albany Thursday, Dec. 16.
The governor and her newly-appointed Health Commissioner Mary Bassett sounded the alarm about the more contagious Omicron variant, explaining how, even if it causes milder symptoms it can still send more people into hospitals.
“If you have a lot of people infected, even a small proportion [of hospitalizations] will lead to big numbers,” Bassett said.
The state’s top doctor cited a comparison of exponential spreads by Cornell University President Martha Pollack, which showed how the new strain could mean more hospitalizations.
The example plots out the Delta variant if each case infects two other people and has a 10% hospitalization rate, leading to 2,047 infections and 205 hospitalizations.
With Omicron, if it infects about four others per positive case but only causes 1% of hospitalizations, the new cases quickly swell to almost 1.4 million during the same time and 14,000 people end up in hospitals.
“People are underestimating the power of Omicron because they’re saying, ‘Well, people aren’t getting really sick, they’re not in hospitals,'” said Hochul. “Look at the percentages [Bassett] just showed us.”
Cases have been on the up especially upstate in recent weeks, still driven predominantly by Delta, but on Thursday numbers showed COVID-19 rate doubled in just the last three days, according to the city’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.
Mayor Bill de Blasio’s senior health advisor Jay Varma said the spike was unprecedented.
“Um, we’ve never seen this before,” Varma tweeted on Dec. 16.
Um, we've never seen this before in #NYC.
Test positivity doubling in three days
12/9 – 3.9%
12/10 – 4.2%
12/11 – 6.4%
12/12 – 7.8%
Note: Test % is only for PCR & NYC does more per capita daily than most places ~67K PCR/day + 19K [reported] antigen over past few days (1/2) pic.twitter.com/PhxsZq55jn
— Jay Varma (@DrJayVarma) December 16, 2021
Both city and state officials have rolled out stricter measures amid the spread, and Hochul defended her vaccine-or-mask mandate that went into effect statewide Monday, despite some county leaders outside New York City defying the order.
“This is a crisis, this is a healthcare crisis and people are going to die. It is not hyperbole. That is based on the facts that are in front of us right now,” she said. “If people had gotten vaccinated when we asked them to and got the booster shots, I wouldn’t have had to put in place a mask mandate.”