Cases climb and memories of 2020 come back
It’s Friday. We will look at an increase in coronavirus cases that are causing people to line up outside testing centers and worry about infections, even if they are vaccinated. We will also meet the former New York City police officer that Eric Adams, the new mayor, has chosen for one of the most difficult positions in the new administration, commissioner of the Department of Corrections.
One way to sum up the corner in which the coronavirus has supported New York is to write paragraphs that begin “again.” A sin:
Once again, cases of the coronavirus are on the rise in New York City. The daily average of new cases had climbed to 3,700 Thursday, a number not seen since early April.
Once again, New York State reports more new infections than any other state – nearly 13,000 new cases Thursday. There hadn’t been so many since January, when the 2020 holiday peak finally waned.
Another way to convey the same idea is to simply say that 2021 looks like a rerun of the same time period last year.
This year – which began with the vaccine promise – ends with another holiday season marred by uncertainty and fear. The offices are canceling the holiday season. Broadway performances are canceled at the last minute due to major infections among cast and crew members. Restaurants had to close because workers tested positive. Colleges that resumed face-to-face classes in the fall have online finals. Some companies require their employees to work from home.
It’s a frustrating time for New Yorkers who thought the virus was finally on the run. Feeling confident after taking their pictures, they relaxed a bit and walked back to the old familiar places – the metro; restaurants, where they felt comfortable eating inside; guest apartments for parties. Now shoppers are picking up home test kits that were stacked on store shelves just a few weeks ago.
The city’s test positivity rate tripled in just three days, to 7.8% on Sunday from 3.9% the previous Thursday, sounding the alarm bells among city officials. “Uh, we’ve never seen this before in #NYC“, Dr Jay Varma, an epidemiologist who helped guide the response to the New York pandemic as a councilor to city hall, wrote on Twitter.
The big picture only made New Yorkers more anxious. This week, the United States has crossed two troubling thresholds – 50 million known cases in total and 800,000 deaths in total – and experts say the Omicron variant is likely to push the trajectory even further. “No part of the country will be safe from Omicron,” warned Shweta Bansal, a disease ecologist at Georgetown University.
Mayor Bill de Blasio announced six measures to deal with the increase, including extending the hours and capacity of test sites; distribute 1 million free KN95 masks and 500,000 home tests through community organizations; step up enforcement of mask and vaccine mandates in businesses and encourage more New Yorkers to get recalls. According to city statistics, only 1.5 million New Yorkers, or about 22% of adults, have received a booster or extra dose. Some 82 percent of adult New Yorkers are fully immunized.
So how worried should New Yorkers be?
“It depends on who you are,” said Dr. Celine Gounder, an infectious disease specialist and epidemiologist at New York University and Bellevue Hospital, when I asked her this question. “If you are vaccinated, especially if you are also boosted, I think you should be reassured that you are well protected against serious illness, hospitalization and death. I have heard, just over the past two days, of dozens of people I know who have had breakthrough infections, presumably Omicron, even despite being triple vaccinated, but their cases are very mild. They look a lot more like the common cold so for me that’s a big win. If we have succeeded in turning Covid into a cold through vaccination, it is a success. “
She paused for a moment before saying that if you are not vaccinated “you must be worried.” In about a month, she said, “the hospitals are going to be pretty full.”
Enjoy a mostly sunny day as temperatures hit the upper 50s. It will be a cloudy night with a risk of rain and temperatures in the 40s.
parking on the alternative side
Valid until December 24 (Christmas Eve).
For a tough assignment, Adams turns to Las Vegas
Eric Adams, the incoming mayor, has announced his choice for Corrections Commissioner – Louis Molina, who for 11 months in 2016 and 2017 was the internal controller of the struggling agency he will now lead.
Molina, a former New York City police officer who has headed the Department of Public Safety in Las Vegas since last December, takes on one of the new administration’s toughest jobs: taming the dysfunction on Rikers Island, the complex city prison that descended into chaos in late summer amid the lingering pandemic and staff emergency.
On her previous tour with the department, Molina focused on following up on the city’s attempt to comply with a settlement it agreed to in the face of a lawsuit and a federal civil rights inquiry linked to the use of force and other conditions in Rikers. He left the Correctional Service to become an officer in the Execution Division of the Taxi and Limousine Commission; after 10 months he took up the No. 2 position in the Westchester Corrections Department. He helped the county end federal oversight of its treatment of incarcerated people.
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As a tribute to a New York institution, Metropolitan Diaries this week offers readers stories of encounters with Stephen Sondheim.
The coronavirus pandemic: what you need to know
I was in first grade at Marist College in the fall of 1983 when I returned to my dorm to find a message scribbled on the little whiteboard hanging on my door: “Stephen Sondheim called. Remind him at … “
Thinking it was one of my house theater-loving friends making a joke, I called back from the payphone at the end of the floor, only to find out that it was actually the Stephen Sondheim’s office number.
His assistant answered and asked me when it would be convenient for him to call me back. I was so stunned that I didn’t ask why he was calling or how he got the pay phone number. (It turned out he tried my home in the Bronx first, and my mom gave him the pay phone number. “Has a Stephen Sondheim contacted you?” she asked when I called later.)
I explained to Mr Sondheim’s assistant that I was at university and could only be reached at a communal phone booth, but that I could be there at any time the following evening.
The following night, the phone rang at the appointed time. I answered on the first ring. It wasn’t Mr. Sondheim. The caller was Gerald Chapman, his creative partner in the Young Playwrights Festival, a teenage competition the two had recently launched.
Mr. Chapman would call me to tell me that a one-act play I wrote in high school had been selected as a semi-finalist. (I forgot I submitted it.)
So I never got a chance to speak with the theater legend, but in my mind I can still see the message on that erasable board: “Stephen Sondheim called. Remind him at … “
– Jean Roche
Illustrated by Agnès Lee. Send your submissions here and read more Metropolitan Diary here.
Glad we can meet here. See you tomorrow. – JB
PS Here is today’s one Mini crossword and Spelling. You can find all our puzzles here.
Melissa Guerrero, Jonah Candelario, Olivia Parker, Michael wilson, Sharon otterman, Lola fadulu and Ashley wong contributed to New York Today. You can join the team at [email protected].
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