NYC reinstitutes Covid mask advisory ‘at all times’ indoors

New York City on Monday issued an advisory strongly recommending that everyone wear masks indoors at all times regardless of vaccination status, amid concern about the new, highly mutated strain of Covid named omicron. 

“I’m also issuing a commissioners advisory strongly recommending that all New Yorkers wear a mask at all times when indoors and in a public setting. Like at your grocery or in building lobbies, offices and retail stores,” Dr. Dave Chokshi, commissioner of the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, told reporters during an update. 

Outgoing Mayor Bill de Blasio and Chokshi said New York City has not identified any cases of omicron so far. They both emphasized that vaccination remains the most crucial tool available to fight Covid-19. 

“There are no omicron cases here in New York City at this moment. It is very likely there will be, but there are no cases at this moment,” de Blasio said. “Our entire focus once again is going to be on vaccination. Based on everything we know, vaccination is crucial to any strategy for addressing omicron.” 

Chokshi said it will probably be a matter of days before omicron is detected in New York City. He said the city has a strong surveillance system that can rapidly identify omicron when it arrives. 

De Blasio encouraged parents to vaccinate their children ages 5 to 11 years old. He also called on New Yorkers to get their booster shots as soon as possible. The mayor doubled down on the city’s vaccine mandates, expanding the requirements to cover 102,000 people who work in childcare and early intervention programs. The compliance deadline is Dec. 20 

New York City’s vaccination rate is comparatively high, with 88% of adults in the city having received at least one dose. However, just 16% of kids 5 to 11 have received one shot. The city has administered more than 943,000 booster shots so far. 

Covid infections are rising in New York City, with about 1,400 new cases a day on average, according to the city’s health department. 

Nation’s first overdose prevention centers open in NYC amid opioid death spike 

New York City opened the nation’s first overdose prevention center Tuesday, which harm-reduction advocates are calling a big step in a country that has suffered countless deaths due to drug overdoses as it continued to battle an opioid epidemic. 

Cities and states across the country have pushed to open similar sites in recent years as the opioid epidemic continued to get worse. Advocates have long said the sites would reduce opioid deaths, destigmatize drug misuse and help connect people with substance use disorders to addiction services. Critics said the sites would create spaces that accommodate and magnify drug use. 

“If you think about a public health response to a crisis and you want to triage people to stop it, this is one intervention most likely to do that,” said Caleb Banta-Green, the principal research scientist at the University of Washington Addictions, Drug and Alcohol Institute. “They’re doing it in much of the world, so we’re really kind of late to the game.” 

Overdose prevention sites provide supervised settings for people who use drugs to be in a monitored space with nurses, clinical staff or peers to ensure the person does not overdose. Observers are there to reverse overdoses with naloxone, a medication that works as an antidote to opioid overdoses, and prevent death. 

Banta-Green said a key benefit of these sites is that they stop people from using substances alone, which he said greatly increases the risk of a fatal overdose. 

The two sites in New York City will open in Manhattan, in the East Harlem and Washington Heights neighborhoods, where people will bring and use their drugs and be observed by trained staff members who will provide clean needles, prevent overdoses and connect people who are willing to provide addiction services. 

Advocacy and addiction service groups New York Harm Reduction Educators and Washington Heights Corner Project will merge to form OnPoint NYC to staff the centers, which are expected to open Tuesday. 

The opening in New York City comes after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported more than 90,000 overdose deaths in the U.S. in 2020. Over 2,000 occurred in New York City alone.  

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