A month into the Omicron surge, Gov. Kathy Hochul of New York said on Tuesday that there were signs of hope on the horizon and that the rate of new coronavirus cases in New York City had begun to plateau.
Still, she said, with case counts continuing to increase elsewhere in the state and a growing number of hospitals forced to limit elective procedures as a result, it would be premature to declare victory over the current virus wave.
“Looks like we may be cresting over that peak,” Ms. Hochul said at her daily news briefing, before clarifying: “Cases are slowing down, the rate of increase is slowing down, but they are still high.”
Statewide, there were 48,686 new cases on Monday, the governor said. Just over half were in New York City.
“We’re not at the end,” Ms. Hochul said, while calling the latest figures “a glimmer of hope in a time when we desperately need that.”
Other data provided a potentially sobering counterpoint to Ms. Hochul’s optimism. Nearly one in five reported virus tests in the state continue to come back positive. Case numbers keep climbing in some neighboring states, including Massachusetts and Connecticut, according a New York Times database.
And even as case numbers in New Jersey show signs of leveling off, Gov. Phil Murphy on Tuesday extended a state of emergency declaration that allows state officials to, among other things, continue to to require that masks be worn in schools and at day care centers. (Ms. Hochul previously extended New York’s mask mandate through the end of January.)
Ms. Hochul also acknowledged that a large swath of New York was not faring as well as New York City.
“Upstate is continuing to go up, without a doubt,” Ms. Hochul said of the case numbers, adding: “Upstate is about two weeks behind downstate.”
The surge has prompted hospitals across the Finger Lakes, Mohawk Valley and central New York regions to call off elective surgical procedures — a measure that Ms. Hochul said would remain in effect for the next two weeks.
In another acknowledgment of how fast the Omicron variant continues to spread, the state health commissioner, Dr. Mary T. Bassett, said at the Tuesday briefing that New York would no longer require local health departments to conduct contact tracing on virus cases.
“Omicron is very contagious and has a very short incubation period,” Dr. Bassett said. Because of that, she added, there was “a very short window for intervention to disrupt transmission, which is the purpose of contact tracing.”
The move will allow the state to redirect resources to testing and vaccination efforts, which will do more to fight the virus’s spread, officials said.
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Some health departments, like Rockland County’s, had already stopped their tracing efforts as a result of the Omicron-driven spike.
“Due to the recent surge, the Health Department will not be able to reach every Covid-19 positive resident through contact tracing,” Dr. Patricia Schnabel Ruppert, the county’s health commissioner, said in a statement last week. She encouraged residents instead to use self-service forms online and to contact a doctor if they needed medical attention.
Ms. Hochul said individual counties could still conduct contact tracing if they wanted to but they would no longer be obligated to do so. Instead, the state plans to create a website offering guidance to New Yorkers on how to isolate themselves.
“If you’re not feeling well please stay home,” Ms. Hochul said. “Watch some football, watch some whatever you want to watch, but just — just be safe.”
Across the state, 12,540 people were hospitalized with Covid-19 on Monday, and 160 died.
Lisa Waananen contributed reporting.