State, city gear up for Omicron arrival 1

With the Omicron variant of Covid-19 expected soon, the city is again advising that masks be worn indoors, regardless of vaccination status. Meanwhile, Gov. Hochul has declared elective and nonessential procedures can be halted at hospitals beginning Dec. 3 if their available bed capacity falls below 10 percent. But she and other experts say capacity is not a problem downstate — for now, at least.

City Health Commissioner Dr. Dave Chokshi was direct on Monday when asked about the possibility of Covid-19’s Omicron variant showing up in the city.

“[W]e believe it will be a matter of days before Omicron is detected in the United States, and very likely in New York City as well,” he said at a press conference.

Chokshi’s boss, Mayor de Blasio, and Gov. Hochul weren’t preparing to wait; and in fact, by Wednesday the first U.S. case was reported from a test conducted in San Francisco. Closer to home, published reports said two cases have been reported in Ontario, Canada.

On Friday, Nov. 26, Hochul, under her emergency powers, signed a declaration to allow the Department of Health to limit nonessential and nonurgent procedures for hospitals or systems where the availability of inpatient beds falls below 10 percent of capacity “or as determined by the Department of Health based on regional and heath care utilization factors.”

The new protocols will take effect on Friday, Dec. 3, according to a statement on Hochul’s official website. They will be re-assessed based on the latest Covid-19 data on Jan. 15. The executive order also will enable New York State to acquire more quickly any critical supplies to combat the pandemic.

“So beginning on Dec. 3rd, elective procedures at these short-staffed hospitals will cease. And we’ll reassess that again, Jan. 15th,” Hochul said Monday afternoon, according to a transcript of her remarks viewed on her website.

Hochul said Albany is looking more at upstate regions than New York City.

“This is very targeted,” she said. “You have to look at bed capacity ... New York City, 28 percent. Long Island, 27 percent. These areas can handle the individuals who are seeking medical attention at a hospital. There is not a capacity issue there.”

As of Monday, however, the Finger Lakes region was at 9 percent and Western New York at 11.

“These are the areas that were targeted,” Hochul said.

Dr. David Battinelli, physician in chief at Northwell Health, told the Chronicle on Tuesday that the city appears ready for any contingency.

“We’re fine,” he said. “We weren’t necessarily expecting [Hochul’s declaration] right now, but we’d noticed that the vaccination rates were poor upstate and that the number of cases was beginning to increase.” He also said the cold weather Covid season is overlapping with flu season, and that Hochul may just have used the Omicron news in order to become more prepared.

“Also the flu vaccination rates are not that good, so this is not a terrible surprise,” he said. “If you look at the big picture, you could say we’re going to be worried about Omicron. The problem is upstate, we’re not even handling the current variant well. But in our area, we’re good. Capacity is good.

“We’ve only got 200 to 250 [Covid] patients throughout our entire system and our vaccination rate is good. We’re putting some special policies in place with regard to special quarantines from places where Omicron outbreaks seem to have taken hold. But it pretty much is business as usual.”

Hochul said Monday that essential procedures will continue.

“And people who need cancer treatment, mammograms, colonoscopies, have traumatic injuries, heart surgery, they will get the care they need,” she said. “Again, many of those procedures to detect for cancer, mammograms, for example, colonoscopies, they also can be performed at other places other than hospitals. And we want to make sure that no one puts off critically important preventative procedures as well as happened during the pandemic, the first wave around and the second wave.”

On Monday Chokshi issued an updated mask advisory, saying that all New Yorkers are “encouraged” to wear masks indoors regardless of vaccination status.

“Let’s take steps now to stay safe, protect each other and prepare for the #OmicronVariant,” de Blasio tweeted on Monday morning.

Mayor-elect Eric Adams, in a video posted on Twitter, said Monday that he will be following Mayor de Blasio’s approach when he takes office on Jan. 1.

“Anyone who believes that we are going to play off a different playbook under the next administration of not pursuing vaccines, they need to believe that it’s not true,” Adams said. “We are going to be on this same playbook. We must get vaccinated in a real way, and I’m going to continue to advocate that and amplify it.

“So let’s acknowledge the fact — we’ve done an amazing job as a city and I’m proud of what New Yorkers have done under this pandemic. It hit us in the gut at the beginning, but we adjusted and we’re dong the right things and we need to encourage each other to continue to do that.”

Battinelli said variants are to be expected.

“There’s no question about that, given that this is a pandemic and until everyone on the entire planet is either infected or immunized, the virus is going to continue to replicate and is likely to mutate,” he said.

“Mutations, of course, are always assumed to be with respect to transmissibility, not virulence. I think some of the early data — and we’ll have to see — suggests that the cases we’re seeing in South Africa with Omicron currently are not particularly severe. But that does not mean that the transmission ability is not high.

“The hope for all variants is that none of them will be severe in vaccinated patients. I think the message here is to get vaccinated, not just for Covid, but also for the flu ... We’re not seeing good flu vaccination rates yet. It’s still early in the season, but we should be doing better by this time.”

Hochul on Monday said New York State’s total capacity of available beds has dropped 4 percent since early August. Seventy percent of those losses are upstate. The growth in hospitalizations is 150 percent greater upstate than downstate in that time.

“Not than I’m trying to create an upstate downstate divide ... but just looking at the numbers, these are the numbers were seeing and they’re very troubling,” Hochul said.

As of Monday, the state had 32.21 Covid-19 cases per 100,000 residents, but New York City’s rate was at 16.8; the Mid-Hudson region 25.56; and Long Island is 35.89.

At the other end of the spectrum were Western New York (66.04), the Mohawk Valley (57.87), the Finger Lakes region (55.53), the North Country (55.48), the Capital Region (50.23), the Southern Tier (50.12) and Central New York (43).

The seven-day average of positive tests in four of the five borough ticked up each day between Saturday, Nov. 27 and Monday, Nov. 29. Queens saw it rise from 2.34 percent to 2.49. Only Staten Island saw a decrease in that time period.

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