New York Cuts Back Covid Testing Amid U.S. Summer Surge

Bloomberg — New York City is scaling back on Covid-19 testing sites despite omicron subvariants that are driving a nationwide rise in new case and hospitalization rates.

The city’s public health system has been shutting down hundreds of testing sites as public attention to the virus fades, according to its website. The number of tests that showed positive results for total testing, which indicates the spread of the virus, rose by 15.4% to this week. This is almost four times as high as April’s rate.

Hospitalizations and deaths, which can be a lagging indicator, have fallen slightly in recent weeks, according to reports from the city’s health department. Mayor Eric Adams said Thursday that its hospitals aren’t stressed and the city is in a “good, stable place.”

“New York City and its Test & Trace Corps operate over 300 testing sites per day, including over 110 mobile testing sites and over 200 at-home test distribution sites,” a city hall spokesperson said in a statement. “Our shift to mobile testing and at-home test distribution dramatically expands the number of sites available for New Yorkers to get tested, ensuring that fast, flexible, no-cost COVID-19 testing is available to all New Yorkers.”

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that at least 70% are caused by the subvariants of omicron BA.4 and BA.5 who increase the risk of infection. While they’re more transmissible and better able to evade immune defenses than earlier versions, people who have been vaccinated or previously infected are generally suffering low rates of severe illness, according to Dan Barouch, a virologist at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston.

“I think the vaccines essentially have done their job,” said Barouch, who developed Johnson & Johnson’s Covid shot, in an interview. “They have transformed a life-threatening disease into one that is, in most individuals, a mild illness.”

The Adams administration ended the use of its color-coded Covid alarm system, which it had implemented in January after his election.

New Yorkers are still encouraged to be hydrated and stay inside by the city. But, according to Adams, the alert system was “not good for the war that we’re currently fighting.”

‘See No Evil’

It isn’t everyone who applauds the decision. Gregg Gonsalves, an infectious disease expert at the Yale School of Public Health, said it’s short-sighted and ignores the reality of the ongoing outbreak.

“We’ve entered the see-no-evil, speak-no-evil, hear-no-evil phase of the pandemic: if we pretend it’s not there, even stop counting it, we think it will go away,” he said. “Sadly, planned ignorance is not bliss.”

Find out more about the Omicron Clan and Virus Variants

According to the CDC on Wednesday, the national seven-day average number of daily cases was over 106,000. That’s up slightly from around 25,000 during most of March or April. The US hospitalization rate is also slightly higher, with a seven-day average of 4,930 on June 28 and 5,080 the week of July 5.

Pew Research polls show mixed feelings about the effectiveness of the government’s response to the pandemic. 43% say that the nation has prioritized health care during the crisis, and 34% think the epidemic has not received enough attention.

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Meanwhile, the virus’s continued march across the US has brought varying responses from health officials. Texas has experienced an increase in Covid-related cases during the last two months. Hospitalizations have reached their highest level since March.

Austin officials are urging citizens to keep N95 face masks inside, as there is a lot of transmission and decline in immunity. As demand soared for vaccines for children below 5, the city rescinded plans to close down an existing mass vaccination center.

California has the highest daily positivity rates since January, at 15%. The CDC lists Ventura as a county with the highest levels of community transmission.

Continue reading: Learn More about Paxlovid, Other Covid-19 Treatments

Although hospitalizations in Los Angeles County are relatively steady over the last month, BA.4/BA.5 has become an issue, Barbara Ferrer, Public Health Director, stated in a Thursday briefing. It is extremely disturbing that they can reinfect other people infected by the same strain, Ferrer said.

Barouch warned that new variants may pose a threat to widespread, severe disease. Therefore, it is vital to be vigilant. That means continued testing and monitoring, said Yale’s Gonsalves.

The coronavirus “will continue to infect Americans, disrupt lives, send people to the hospital, some to the morgue, leave some with lingering symptoms for months, if not years,” he said. Stepping back from testing “isn’t a plan, it’s an abdication.”

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