COVID-19 Wave Sweeps New York

By Petr Svab
Petr Svab
Petr Svab
Petr Svab is a reporter covering New York. Previously, he covered national topics including politics, economy, education, and law enforcement.
December 29, 2021 Updated: December 30, 2021

After northern and western parts of the New York State suffered a surge of COVID-19 hospitalizations, the wave appears to have moved downstate, hitting the Hudson Valley and increasingly also New York City and Long Island. Most of the infections stem from the Omicron variant of the virus, according to estimates by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The number of patients currently hospitalized with COVID-19 has jumped from about 2,000 in mid-November to more than 6,700 on Dec. 28, according to data published by the state’s health department.

The state’s numbers started to gradually go up already in the summer. The western and northern regions peaked in early to mid-December with Western New York and Finger Lakes recording about 40 people hospitalized per 100,000. Some hospital systems in the north paused elective surgeries for several weeks in December to conserve capacity.

Then the wave shifted downstate to the more densely populated areas.

On Dec. 18, New York City had 1,046 hospitalized with COVID-19. On Dec. 28, it was already 3,178. Long Island hospitalizations went from 574 to 1,106 in the same period. Both regions had a hospitalization rate of around 38 per 100,000 in the most recent data.

Omicron comprised anywhere between 70–97 percent of the infections in the CDC “Region 2,” which comprises New Jersey, New York, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands, in the week ending Dec. 25. The CDC doesn’t yet have data for that week, but uses a model to predict the spread of variants.

The upstate regions have lower vaccination rates than the downstate ones. It’s not clear from the overall state data how much of a difference that makes. The region with the lowest rate, Mohawk Valley at 58 percent fully vaccinated, reached peak hospitalizations of some 33 per 100,000 on Dec. 2. Long Island, with the highest vaccination rate of more than 74 percent, already has a hospitalized rate of nearly 39 per 100,000.

New York City subway system recently announced its trains will run less frequently due to the COVID surge.

MTA, the city’s transit authority, cited staff shortages as a reason for train delays, but hasn’t specified how high is the infection rate within its ranks. It requires workers to provide proof of vaccination or take weekly COVID tests.

At least 80 percent of MTA employees are inoculated, local media reported Gov. Kathy Hochul as saying.

Hochul recently announced a shortening of the time essential workers must stay home after testing positive. Fully vaccinated people in health care and other frontline fields can return to work after five days instead of 10 if they’re not showing symptoms or their symptoms are resolving. They must also wear masks on the job.

MTA said the new quarantine rules will help alleviate staff shortages.

The annual New Year’s Eve celebration in Times Square will still go on, but with reduced capacity, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced last week.

Viewing areas that normally accommodate over 50,000 people will be limited to about 15,000. Every attendee must show proof of vaccination and wear a mask.

Last year, Times Square was mostly empty on the special day, with pop stars performing behind police barricades to small groups of essential workers.

This week, Apple has closed a string of stores in the city to in-store shopping. The company’s policy is to close a store when roughly 10 percent of staff test positive for the virus. The company did not say when its New York locations would reopen to shoppers.

Petr Svab
Petr Svab is a reporter covering New York. Previously, he covered national topics including politics, economy, education, and law enforcement.