Mayor Bill de Blasio announced some more COVID-19 testing sites the city plans to open this week to meet the rising demand amid the ongoing Omicron NYC surge in cases, but hizzoner thinks the spike would only be a “fast and temporary phenomenon,” during a virtual briefing Sunday, Dec. 19.
“We expect Omicron to be a fast and temporary phenomenon. We expect these next weeks to see a very very big surge in the number of cases — more than we’ve seen previously — and then we expect, after a period of time, that it will dissipate,” Hizzoner said at his virtual press conference.
“That’s been, so far, the pattern we’ve seen in other places, notably South Africa where we first saw Omicron’s presence,” according to de Blasio.
The city’s public hospital system NYC Health + Hospitals will contract with more companies to roll out testing sites as current facilities are swamped with lines of New Yorkers stretching around blocks waiting to get swabbed.
That includes eight new brick-and-mortar sites by Tuesday, including five already announced Thursday, and 17 mobile sites by the end of the week, bringing the total more than 30 fixed and 93 mobile locations, according to Test and Trace Commissioner Ted Long.
There used to be 54 fixed sites, but in mid-November the city suddenly shut down 20 of its own publicly-run outposts amid a drop in federal Test and Trace funding, and has started relying more on outside companies to provide testing, the news site The City reported.
The move has left some neighborhoods with scaled-back operations, for example in Red Hook, Brooklyn, where the city once ran a mass testing site out of the local Parks Department rec center, but has since replaced it with an on-street contractor van.
VIDEO. Waited 3 1/2 hrs for a Covid test. Here’s a look at the line. A winter surge has been expected and more people are being exposed and yet heading into year three of the pandemic, we’re still dealing with lines like this. pic.twitter.com/K3tysRTDAs
— Peter Haskell (@peterhaskell880) December 19, 2021
Long said that all of the new facilities coming online this week will be run through private contractors — or “vendors” as officials call them — but contested that the increased reliance on private firms meant less access to tests.
“What we’ve done in some situations, like Brooklyn Army Terminal or [NYC Health + Hospitals] Bathgate, is we’ve taken what was formerly testing sites and we’ve made them into vaccine sites and we had mobile testing units outside of those sites for as long as people wanted to come and get tested there,” the hospital official said. “So for you, as a person in that community, you’ve uninterrupted testing access, that’s never changed.”
While the mayor said there “should not be a distinction” in quality between public and private providers, the health big noted the quick turnaround time at H+H-run facilities.
“If you want to fast turnaround time, come to one of my sites, come to one of our city-run sites,” Long said. “Many of our sites will turn around a result for you within 12 to 18 hours and most of them have rapid testing.”
A tsunami of infections crashed down on the city in the week leading up to Christmas, with rates climbing to 6.04% across seven-day average Saturday, up from 4.39% Thursday, according to the state’s Department of Health.
Mayor de Blasio on Sunday also called on President Joe Biden to invoke the Defense Production Act to mobilize production of more resources.
“We need — given the amount as needed in terms of test kits and vaccine — again would urge that the President invoke the Defense Production Act and use every tool that the private sector has and the public sector has to continue to provide supplies here around the country,” de Blasio said.
Incoming Mayor Eric Adams briefly joined the presser, saying there was “no daylight” between him and de Blasio regarding COVID policies, despite not committing to the incumbent’s wide-ranging vaccine mandate for private businesses.
“We will ensure that everything in our power as the heads of the current administration and the next administration to give New Yorkers the resources they need to stay healthy and protect each other,” Adams said. “There is no daylight between the mayor and I on that commitment.”
Adams left the virtual briefing before the press got a chance to ask him questions, but maintained there would be “continuity” between the administrations.
“It has been an unprecedented coordination to have a seamless transition and handoff to make sure we fight this crisis together,” the mayor-to-be said. “There will also be continuity between his administration and mine when the new year begins so that there is no confusion or gap in our COVID response when I take office Jan. 1. The mayor and I are together on this.”