NYC Health + Hospitals (H+H), the city’s network of public hospitals, is temporarily suspending almost all visitations effective Wednesday, a major escalation in the fight against the Omicron variant reminiscent of the earliest, most frightening days of the pandemic.
H+H CEO Mitchell Katz said that the new policy comes after an outbreak at an unspecified hospital in the network related to visitation.
“There’s so much transmission going on right now in New York City because of Omicron,” Katz said at Mayor Bill de Blasio’s daily briefing on Monday. “And so, for a short while, while we get the situation under control, we’re going to have limited visitation.”
H+H spokesperson Christopher Miller said that the network would not be sharing which hospital suffered the outbreak.
The announcement, first publicized by Coney Island Hospital on Tuesday afternoon, makes exceptions for patients who are in labor, children, in hospice care, or who have intellectual disabilities. Visitors to those patients will have to be either fully vaccinated or produce a negative test from within the past 48 hours. Visits to all other patients will be banned for an undefined period of time.
“For a short time,” Katz continued, “in order to make sure that we don’t cause more disease, we need to limit the number of visitors.”
The move is reminiscent of, though not as stringent as, a move by the State Department of Health in March 2020, the apex of the pandemic in New York.
Katz also said that the network’s testing sites will see expanded hours, from 7 am to 7 pm, to meet the extensive demand for COVID tests seen over the past week as the Omicron variant surges. Over 1 million New Yorkers got tested for COVID between Dec. 14-20, according to state data. Those seeking tests have been met with immense lines, often taking over two hours to get to the front, and the huge load of tests being proffered has overwhelmed testing labs, causing longer-than-normal wait times for results.
New state records were set each day between Dec. 15-19 for numbers of new cases, culminating in over 15,000 new cases reported on Sunday. The number went down slightly on Monday, to 13,760, which is still the second-highest number of new daily cases ever in the pandemic era.
The test positivity rate stood at just over 11% on Monday, the latest date when data is available from the city. That’s up from 3.47% just two weeks ago on Dec. 8.
After having previously closed many brick-and-mortar testing sites and shifting focus to mobile sites before Omicron hit, the city has gone on a reopening blitz, and the number of testing sites citywide now stands at 119, the mayor said. Sen. Chuck Schumer, who was given a key to the city by the mayor on Wednesday, said he’s requested 100 mobile testing sites from the federal government, and has so far secured a commitment for six, though he says that’s not nearly enough.
The city, state, and federal governments have all also stated that they will begin distributing at-home tests to lessen the burden on testing sites.
Hospitalization rates have ticked up as the case numbers have exploded, but not to nearly the same degree, and the mayor said the city’s hospitals are sustaining the caseload much more effectively than in 2020. He also again said that he expects the Omicron surge to only last a few weeks owing to the lower rates of hospitalizations.
“The good news is our hospitals are doing well,” Hizzoner said at the briefing. “And we’re seeing a very different reality than we saw in 2020. Many fewer people in ICUs, thank god. So even though we’re seeing these higher numbers, we’re able to sustain.”
H+H later announced the opening of three CDC mobile testing units in Queens. One of them opened Wednesday, at Travers Park, 76-09 34th Ave. in Jackson Heights.
The other two sites will open Thursday morning, at Queens Valley Playground, corner of 137th Street and 77th Avenue in Flushing; and at the Helen Marshall Playground, 100th Street and 24th Avenue in East Elmhurst.
These CDC mobile testing sites will be open each day from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Visit nyc.gov/covidtests to find other test sites near you.