Just a couple of weeks ago, New York City seemed like a relative bright spot in the U.S. coronavirus struggle. Now it’s a hot spot, confronting a dizzying spike in cases, scramble for testing, quandary over a major event and exhausting sense of déjà vu.
An omicron-variant-fueled wave of cases is washing over the nation’s most populous city, which served as a nightmarish test case for the country early in the pandemic. While health officials say there are important reasons why it’s not spring 2020 all over again, some Broadway shows have abruptly canceled performances, an indoor face mask mandate is back and testing is hard to come by.
“It’s disappointing that we haven’t developed a better system for this and that we weren’t better prepared for there to be another wave,” Jordan Thomas said Monday in her fourth hour of waiting for a test at a city-run health clinic near downtown Brooklyn.
With temperatures hovering near freezing, Nina Clark joined the line for the third time since her symptoms started Thursday. Once again, she ended up walking away.
“I stood there in the cold and said, ‘I can’t do this,'” she said. “Everywhere you go, there’s a line.”
As officials and health experts urged people to get not only tests but vaccine booster shots, an hourlong line for either one formed at a privately run pharmacy in lower Manhattan.
“I’m just trying to remain optimistic,” Inga Chen said as she waited for a booster.
After shuttering some testing centers last month for lack of demand and in favor of pop-up testing vans, the city is racing to expand capacity again. The 130,000 daily tests at city-sponsored sites is already double what the number was just three weeks ago, and Mayor Bill de Blasio said Monday that the city would add 20 fixed locations and three vans this week. It also plans to distribute 500,000 at-home test kits.
Dr. Mitchell Katz, who runs the city public hospital system, said officials didn’t anticipate “so much news about omicron” or supplies of home test kits running low. Meanwhile, smaller testing sites ran into staffing problems this weekend as workers themselves contracted the virus, he said.