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New York City raises COVID alert level to "high," advises indoor masks in public settings

NYC raises COVID alert level to high as hospitalizations climb
NYC raises COVID alert level to high as hospitalizations climb 02:21

NEW YORK -- Coronavirus cases are once again on the rise in the Big Apple, prompting health officials to put in place a high alert.

The change in status comes as more New Yorkers test positive for the virus and the number of hospitalizations in the city due to COVID-19 has increased steadily over the past two months, CBS2's Astrid Martinez reported Tuesday.

Hospitalizations jumped 28 percent in just the last two weeks.

It's a worrying sign for city ahead of the spring break travel season, but health officials have been warning the public for months that COVID isn't through with us yet.

"I worry about it all the time and I'm also over 70, so I just haven't stopped worrying about it, honestly," said Robin Samuels, who traveled to New York City from Los Angeles.

Now, there's a familiar health alert.

"I like to make sure I don't get exposed to COVID. There's a lot of it running around," Manhattan resident Miriam Katowitz said.

On Tuesday, the city's COVID-19 alert status was upgraded to high due to a recent surge in New Yorkers being hospitalized for the virus.

Health Commissioner Dr. Ashwin Vasan said, "New York City has transitioned to a high COVID alert level, meaning now is the time to double down on protecting ourselves and each other by making choices that can keep our friends, neighbors, relatives, and co-workers from getting sick. As a city, we have the tools to blunt the impact of this wave, including distributing tests, masks and promoting treatments. Getting back to low risk depends on everyone doing their part and if we follow guidance, our forecasts anticipate this wave's peak will not last long. What we do now can make all the difference."

"We do antibody testing on people on a regular basis. They have a very high level of antibodies but they still got infected. This is really kind of a huge burden on every New Yorker," said Dr. Henry Chen, president of SOMOS Community Care.

Chen said this fifth wave of COVID is highly contagious.

"If you are fully vaccinated and boosted then the chance for you to get the virus is pretty much the same as everyone else, but the chances to maintain mild is very high. I have not seen anyone going to the hospital, even those with severe underlying diseases," Chen said.

To help stop the spread, health officials are advising all New Yorkers to wear a mask in any public indoor setting, much like the Broadway community has done since it reopened.

"Masks have always been a requirement. That hasn't changed," Mobile Health CEO Andre Schulman said.

His company has been conducting COVID testing for the Broadway theater communities since last September. Ahead of a busy spring break, the theaters are not letting down their guard.

"The positivity rate in those organizations that serial test one to three times a week is substantially less than the community positivity rate, and the community positivity rate, everyone knows with all the home tests, is probably higher than what is reported," Schulman said.

Mayor Eric Adams said despite the "high" status, no new mask mandates are coming.

"We're not at the point of doing anything other than urging New Yorkers while you're indoors in large settings, social settings, wear your mask," Adams said.

The problem is that even this far into the pandemic, COVID is still keeping us guessing.

"We are seeing unpredictable peaks and surges with new variants at unpredictable times, and we don't know how they are going to respond to vaccines. We're still in a place where we need to keep our guard up," said Denis Nash, a professor of epidemiology at the CUNY Graduate School of Health.

Nash told CBS2's Dick Brennan it's possible mask wearing will remain a part of our routine so long as the virus keeps going strong.

"It is something that we're gonna probably do regularly. We're not getting to a place where it is seasonal and predictable like flu yet. We're a long way from that," he said.

Dr. Anthony Fauci worries about COVID fatigue.

"We've gotta make sure that we don't make a decision, which would be a wrong decision, that we're completely finished with COVID-19. We are not," he said.

The city's elevated alert status comes as mass transit is seeing a boost.

The MTA says nearly 24 million people took the subway or bus last week, setting a pandemic-era record for a single work week, and Metro-North and Long Island Rail Road also saw their highest riderships since March 2020.

The city health officials continue to urge New Yorkers to get vaccinated and boosted.

Meanwhile, the Biden administration has announced it's making a third round of free at-home COVID tests available. Families will be able to order eight more tests per household. You can request your tests at

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