Photo of NYC vaccine hub, The Jefferson by Ed Reed/Mayoral Photography Office
With the Delta variant surging across the country (it now accounts for 83 percent of U.S. cases), experts are predicting a third wave of the coronavirus. Here in New York City, Mayor de Blasio has been reluctant to reinstate an indoor mask mandate, saying that he fears such action will deter those still unvaccinated from getting the shot. In a press conference today, the mayor announced that 70 percent of NYC adults have received at least one dose of the Covid vaccine. But with only 13 percent of children aged 12 to 17 vaccinated, is that figure high enough to warrant a return to normalcy now?
The Delta variant has very quickly become dominant in New York City. Two weeks ago, it made up 44 percent of new cases, jumping to 69 percent last week and 75 percent as of today. The highly infectious strain is also thought to be responsible for the city’s rising positivity rate. The current seven-day average is 2.01 percent. In addition, there is a seven-day average of 644 new confirmed and probable cases per day, the highest numbers since mid-May.
The good news is that hospitalization and death rates are not increasing, a sign that the vaccines are working. In fact, recent data showed that in New York City, vaccinations have saved more than 8,300 lives and averted roughly 250,000 cases and 44,000 hospitalizations since the effort began in December. Though break-through cases are occurring, the risk of serious illness and death is low in vaccinated individuals. The real concern is unvaccinated New Yorkers and children.
As of May 19, the city lifted its indoor mask mandate and social distancing requirement for vaccinated people, though masks are still required in schools, healthcare settings, and public transportation. On Monday, Council Member Mark Levine, who also chairs the Council’s Committee on Health, announced that he would ask the state Health Department to reinstate the face-covering rule, even for those fully vaccinated. “Cases are rising in NYC (up 2X+ in past 2 weeks, driven by delta). Indoor mask use in NYC is falling–in delis, stores, subways, movie theaters etc. We need to reverse this trend,” he wrote in a Tweet on Saturday.
Mayor de Blasio maintains that a mask mandate is not in the cards, but rather that he will double down on vaccination efforts. Yesterday, he implemented a new city policy that will require city health workers to either show proof of vaccination or participate in weekly covid testing. Currently, only about 60 percent of these 42,000 employees, who work in public hospitals or clinical settings at the Department of Health, are vaccinated. Likewise, only 43 percent of NYPD members are vaccinated and only 50 percent of FDNY members. When it goes into effect on August 2, the new policy will not apply to private hospital workers (according to the Times, hospital workers overall are 70 percent vaccinated in NYC) and other city employees like cops, firefighters, correctional officers, clerical workers, and more.
So is this enough to stave off a third wave? According to the New York Times, a modeling team at the N.Y.U. Grossman School of Medicine “predicts a total of about 900 deaths in a coming third wave.” They forecast that “the third wave might peak in October, with some 400,000 to 500,000 New Yorkers infected.”
To date, New York City has seen 33,495 confirmed and probably Covid-related deaths. Nearly one million people have been infected. The 70 percent vaccination rate amounts to 4,648,749 adults. Those fully vaccinated total 4,302,785, or 65 percent of the city’s population. Nearly two million New Yorkers remain unvaccinated.
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