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New York City Ups COVID Testing Amid State's Record Case Surge, De Blasio Tries To Avoid Shutdown

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- As holiday gatherings draw near, New York City is pushing to stop the spread of COVID-19 as record case numbers are reported and lines at testing centers get longer.

Amid the surge, Mayor Bill de Blasio said Monday he's trying to avoid shutdowns in the city by increasing the number of testing centers, CBS2's John Dias reported.

New York reported its fourth consecutive day of record cases -- more than 23,000 people tested positive statewide.

It was a sign of the times in Times Square, where long lines formed even before a pop-up testing site opened.

A tourist arrived an hour early and was first in line. Monika Maneova wanted to make sure she could fly home to Prague on Tuesday.

"You have to have the test and if you don't have, you don't fly," Maneova said.

Some said they waited in the cold for hours.

"We need the test so we line up as long as it takes," said Hartmut Pitchmann from Germany.

"Three of our friends in the past couple days have tested positive," said Talia Fossum-Wernick of Harlem.

FIND TESTING SITES: Click here for New York City's testing site locator, including mobile sites and at-home appointments

AVOID THE LINES: Click here for NYC Health+Hospitals testing wait times

Fossum-Wernick and her roommate, Ella Leh, were double-masked while waiting to get tested. Leh had to cancel her family's Christmas trip from Colorado.

"We found out we had exposure and they were like, 'Yeah nope, absolutely not,'" said Leh, whose Christmas plans are now up in the air.

"I certainly don't know, maybe do a puzzle," she said.

"Plan your holidays around your most vulnerable family member. That may mean hosting a virtual gathering, or moving activities outdoors or using masks, same-day tests and distancing," said New York City Health Commissioner Dr. Dave Chokshi.

Watch Mayor De Blasio's Monday COVID Briefing

Additional testing sites at settings like schools and libraries will be popping up. The city will send supervisors to make sure things run smoothly at these sites and private ones, CBS2's Alice Gainer reported.

The rapid spread of the Omicron variant has created what the city calls an "extraordinary" increase in demand for testing.

"It is the fastest, fittest and most formidable version of the virus that we have seen thus far," said Chokshi.

"We are now testing, in fact, more people than ever, 130,000 plus daily in the city sites," said de Blasio.

That's double the number of tests done three weeks ago.

New York City has 89 testing sites in all five boroughs. It's adding 23 more this week.

Free hotel rooms are available to eligible New Yorkers who test positive for COVID-19.

De Blasio said he'd like to get more at-home tests out, but pointed to a supply issue. Gov. Kathy Hochul said a portal should be up and running soon, allowing New Yorkers to order home testing kits.

"We just had an arrival of 1 million testing kits. We have another million coming next week," Hochul said.

Of late, Manhattan has had the highest positivity rate among the five boroughs. Officials said that's partly because of increased testing there.

Health officials continue to say the best protection is vaccination, including a booster shot.

"You either won't get infected or if you do get an infection, it will be most likely mild. But if you are unvaccinated, I'm worried about you. I'm worried that your risk of being hospitalized or, God forbid, losing your life to this virus is quite significant," U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy told CBS Mornings.


Murthy said hospitalizations should quantify the severity of the surge.

"The most important metrics, for sure, are whether we are saving lives and keeping people out of the hospital," he said. "No vaccine is perfect, especially against a foe like Omicron, but those infections are much more likely to be mild, compared to somebody whose not boosted or vaccinated who have a greater chance of ending up in the hospital."

"All of our hospitals have plans for how we will expand. We worked on it all weekend. We're doing fine right now," said Dr. Mitch Katz, president and CEO of NYC Health + Hospitals.

The city implemented a pair of new vaccine mandates Monday. Employees of private and religious schools must have received at least their first dose of a COVID vaccine by now. Others working in child care must also be vaccinated.

CBS2's John Dias and Jessica Layton contributed to this report.

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