Health and Science

Covid surge is gripping New York City ahead of the holidays: 'We've never seen this before'

Key Points
  • CDC data shows that omicron is spreading fastest in New York and New Jersey.
  • On Dec. 12, the Covid-19 test positivity rate in the city was 7.8%, up from 3.9% just three days before, according to Dr. Jay Varma, a top health advisor to Mayor Bill de Blasio.
Groups of people line-up to get tested for Covid-19 in Times Square on December 05, 2021 in New York City.
Spencer Platt | Getty Images

New York City's Covid-19 positivity rate doubled in just three days as the city battles a virus surge ahead of the holidays, Dr. Jay Varma, a top health advisor to Mayor Bill de Blasio, tweeted Thursday.

"Um, we've never seen this before in #NYC," he wrote.

From Dec. 9 to Dec. 12, the percentage of positive tests in the city spiked from 3.9% to 7.8%. "This is #SARSCoV2 evading both vaccine & virus induced immunity against infection unlike any variant before," Varma added.

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He noted, though, that about 67,000 PCR tests are administered in New York City per day, which is higher per capita than many other communities or cities across the country. Additionally, the data reported by the city has a lag of about three days, meaning current positivity rates could be higher and previous days' data may still be adjusted.

Positivity rates are rising as the omicron variant spreads. According to data released Wednesday from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, New York and New Jersey are the two states with the most rapid spread of the newly identified variant. The data shows that 13.1% of cases in the CDC region that includes New York and New Jersey are omicron, compared with a national average of 2.9%.

"Omicron is here in New York City and it is spreading quickly," Dr. Dave A. Chokshi, commissioner of the New York City health department, said at a news conference Thursday.

De Blasio and his health advisors at the briefing expressed concern ahead of the holiday season. Demand for testing has increased following a few major events, including last weekend's annual SantaCon pub crawl event.

"We're seeing a surge ahead of the holidays," Chokshi said. "I do expect cases will continue to increase in the coming days," he added.

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The omicron variant was first detected in South Africa at the end of November and has quickly spread across the world. In the U.K., it's now the dominant strain and the country saw the highest daily number of new cases since the pandemic began on Wednesday.

At the news conference Thursday, de Blasio announced that the city will be increasing it's testing capacity moving forward. "That means the mobile sites we've talked about, you'll see more of those in all the five boroughs, but we will also be doubling down on our brick and mortar sites," he said.

Hours and capacity at existing fixed sites will be expanded, de Blasio said, even as new sites are added.

Still, the mayor emphasized, getting vaccinated is the best way to protect against omicron and severe disease. "Don't wait, get your booster shot right now," he said.