Dec. 17, 2021 By Allie Griffin
The city will distribute 500,000 at-home rapid tests and one million masks to residents across the five boroughs as COVID-19 cases climb rapidly, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Thursday.
The announcement came at the same time that health officials released data showing that the seven-day average for new cases in the city had tripled in the last month.
“We have seen a very substantial increase in COVID cases in the last few days and it is clear that the Omicron variant is here in New York City in full force,” de Blasio said. “We are announcing a series of measures to address this situation.”
The distribution of at-home tests and masks is part of a multi-pronged effort to combat the rising cases, which health experts attributed to the Omicron variant.
The city is also expanding the number of COVID testing sites and hours, and launching a media campaign to encourage New Yorkers to get their booster shot. Officials will also continue to urge residents to get vaccinated, wear masks indoors and get tested regularly.
City Health Commissioner Dr. Dave Chokshi said that vaccines and boosters have proven to be effective.
“Unvaccinated New Yorkers are eight times more likely to have a COVID-19 infection and they’re 13 times more likely to be hospitalized with COVID-19 [than vaccinated New Yorkers],” Chokshi said.
De Blasio announced the measures as lines for COVID-19 testing wrap blocks in all five boroughs and local businesses have temporarily shuttered due to staff members testing positive.
The city plans to open five new test sites and add more mobile testing vans around the boroughs. It will also open all existing city-run test sites seven days a week and provide at-home rapid test kits at high-volume brick and mortar sites.
Beginning Monday, the city will regularly distribute the same at-home rapid COVID tests and KN95 masks to 150 community-based organizations who will then hand them out to residents. The goal is to reach residents who are at higher risk or have fewer testing options in their area, de Blasio said.
Chokshi said he expects COVID-19 cases to continue to climb in the coming days.
“The data that we monitor so closely is showing an alarming trend,” Chokshi said. “Omicron is here in New York City, and it is spreading quickly.”
He said Omicron accounts for about 13 percent of cases in the city thus far, but that number will grow.
“We’re still contending with Delta, but Omicron is likely to outcompete Delta in the coming weeks and become the dominant strain, which is why we’re taking this rapid action today,” he said.