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It feels like March 2020: Eerie scenes in New York as Omicron wave descends


New Yorkers are struggling to find COVID-19 tests as the city suffers a surge of infections driven by the highly transmissible Omicron variant.  

After New York recorded a record number of new cases on Friday, each new positive test is kicking off frantic text messages to friends and colleagues warning them to get tested, and the looming Christmas holiday is prompting scores more to seek the tests before they travel. 

The surge in demand has stretched the city’s testing capacity to the limit, with wait times of more than two hours on Saturday at some city testing centers and pharmacies in Manhattan running out of at-home test kits amid huge demand. 

According to the Walgreens website, no Walgreens or Duane Reade pharmacy locations in Manhattan had home test kits or appointments for PCR or rapid testing available on Saturday afternoon.

City-run Health + Hospitals free testing sites were overwhelmed with demand, with the Fort Hamilton site in Brooklyn reporting a wait time exceeding two hours.

‘New York City’s test sites don’t have enough capacity, staffing or supervision,’ tweeted New York Times editorial board member Mara Gay. ‘Almost two years in, there is no excuse for making sick New Yorkers – or any sick people, anywhere – wait for hours in cold rain to get tested.’

People line up outside the Barclays Center for COVID tests on Saturday. New Yorkers are struggling to find COVID-19 tests as the city suffers a surge of infections driven by the Omicron variant

New York City's outgoing Mayor Bill de Blasio remains intent on holding his New Year's Eve celebration at full capacity in Times Square, and vows not to follow Europe in a return to lockdowns

New York City’s outgoing Mayor Bill de Blasio remains intent on holding his New Year’s Eve celebration at full capacity in Times Square, and vows not to follow Europe in a return to lockdowns

Daily new cases in New York City set a record this week since widespread testing was available

Daily new cases in New York City set a record this week since widespread testing was available

City-run testing sites reported huge wait times Saturday as New Yorkers struggled to find testing

City-run testing sites reported huge wait times Saturday as New Yorkers struggled to find testing 

The city is responding to the pressure by opening H+H testing sites seven days a week, opening five new sites, and the city sites are also offering free at-home test kits, according to state Senator Kevin Parker of Brooklyn.

Mayor Bill de Blasio’s office and a spokesman for H+H did not immediately respond to inquiries from DailyMail.com on Saturday afternoon. 

In Brooklyn’s Greenpoint neighborhood alone, more than a dozen bars and restaurants have had to close temporarily amid a recent surge in infections among their workers and patrons.   

Brooklyn Nets star Kevin Durant entered the league’s COVID protocol on Saturday, making him the eighth man on the team taken out of action by the virus, even as a huge line formed at a testing station outside the team’s Barclays Center arena. 

The Rockettes on Friday canceled the remained of their Christmas Spectacular performances and a wave of Broadway productions have gone dark due to breakthrough infections in vaccinated performers. 

‘It feels very reminiscent of March 2020,’ said Spencer Reiter, a 27-year-old Brooklyn resident who works in finance as he waited for a rapid test at a medical van near McCarren Park.

Reiter and his friend Katie Connolly, a student who is also 27, had come to be tested after friends tested positive.

‘Seeing these lines… it’s kind of back to where we began,’ Reiter said. Connolly concurred, saying, ‘It’s definitely eerie.’

People wait in line to get tested for COVID-19 at a mobile testing site in Times Square on Friday in New York

People wait in line to get tested for COVID-19 at a mobile testing site in Times Square on Friday in New York

New York City had been mostly spared the worst of the big surge in COVID-19 cases that has taken place across the northeastern and midwestern U.S. since Thanksgiving, but the situation has been changing rapidly in recent days

New York City had been mostly spared the worst of the big surge in COVID-19 cases that has taken place across the northeastern and midwestern U.S. since Thanksgiving, but the situation has been changing rapidly in recent days

The test positivity rate is in each NYC zip code is seen above. The city's positivity rate has risen rapidly in recent weeks

The test positivity rate is in each NYC zip code is seen above. The city’s positivity rate has risen rapidly in recent weeks

Hospitalizations have been rising in New York City as the Omicron variant spreads rapidly

Hospitalizations have been rising in New York City as the Omicron variant spreads rapidly

For many New Yorkers, the rapid return to remote working policies, an onslaught of news about friends and family members testing positive, and grim pronouncements from high officials all feel spookily similar to the pandemic’s darkest days.  

New York’s latest COVID surge comes as the Omicron variant establishes a beachhead in the city, driving cases up just as residents prepare to travel and gather for the Christmas holiday. 

The CDC estimates that Omicron accounts for at least 13 percent of all new cases in New York, which on Friday recorded its highest single-day tally of new COVID-19 cases ever at 21,027. 

‘The winter COVID-19 surge is here,’ warned New York Governor Kathy Hochul, urging everyone to get vaccinated and boosted. 

Though New York’s hospitalizations, which tend to lag new cases, remain below their peaks, they have climbed 25 percent in the past two weeks, straining the state’s healthcare system. 

The spread of the variant, which appears highly transmissible and able to evade immune response from vaccination or prior infection, has already pushed Europe to the brink of new lockdowns. 

However in New York, outgoing Mayor Bill de Blasio remains intent on holding his New Year’s Eve celebration at full capacity in Times Square. 

The party will mark the end of his eight-year reign, which expires on January 1.

De Blasio, like Governor Hochul, insisted on Friday that vaccination and precaution is the best way to combat the city’s COVID-19 surge.

‘No, no, no,’ de Blasio told WNYC on Friday when asked about possible shutdowns of public schools and other activities.

‘Don’t fight yesterday’s war,’ he added. ‘This is not March of 2020. We’re one of the most highly vaccinated places in the United States of America.’

‘The more we vaccinate, the more we can get through this,’ de Blasio said. Another lockdown ‘would really destroy, in so many ways, people’s livelihoods and it would, I think, after everything people have been through — it would be traumatizing.’

The first wave of the pandemic brought New York to its knees in the spring of 2020.

The megalopolis of 8.5 million people, long known as ‘the city that never sleeps,’ felt almost deserted for weeks, its empty streets resembling something from a science fiction movie about a post-apocalyptic world.

The only sound heard in Manhattan’s broad avenues seemed to be the wail of ambulance sirens, as hospitals operated beyond capacity and morgues were forced to bring in refrigerated trucks to handle the huge influx of COVID victims.

The disease has claimed at least 34,000 lives in New York since spring 2020, and the city — especially Manhattan — has never completely regained its legendary glitter and energy of pre-COVID days.

‘We are actually in the beginning again, or maybe even worse,’ said Jolanta Czerlanis, a 54-year-old Brooklyn resident. She had come for testing after feeling possible COVID symptoms.

‘It’s very scary,’ added Czerlanis, who works in catering. ‘We were hoping that it’s going to get better.’

The startlingly rapid spread of Covid-19’s Omicron variant has raised grave concern across the US.

President Joe Biden on Thursday predicted a ‘winter of severe illness and death’ for the unvaccinated.

The number of new daily cases nationwide stood at 86,000 on December 1; by December 14, it had soared to 117,000, a 36 percent increase in two weeks.

The US already leads the world in the most grim of statistics. On Tuesday it surpassed 800,000 COVID deaths, according data compiled by Johns Hopkins.

In the US, highly vaccinated states in the northeast seem to be struggling the most at the moment, as cold weather, waning vaccine immunity and the new variant all contribute to a new case surge. 

In Connecticut, 74 percent of the population is fully vaccinated, one of the highest rates in America. The state has also seen its COVID situation spiral out of control in recent weeks. New cases are up 162 percent over the past two weeks, with 72 out of every 100,000 residents testing positive for the virus every day.

Rhode Island currently has the highest COVID rate in America, with 99 out of every 100,000 residents testing positive for the virus every day – up 63 percent over the past two weeks. It is also the second most vaccinated state in America with 75 percent residents fully jabbed.

The most vaccinated state in America is Vermont, where 76 percent of residents are fully immunized. The state is experiencing a surge of its own still, though, with 69 out of every 100,000 residents being infected everyday.

To credit the vaccine, though, deaths in all three states have remained low despite recent case surges. 

Other nearby states like Massachusetts, Maine and New Hampshire, all with more than 70 percent of their populations fully vaccinated, are dealing with cases surges as well.

‘I think the only thing that it can come down to is behaviors and waning immunity,’ Dr Chris Thompson, an infectious disease expert at Loyola University of Maryland, told DailyMail.com about the increasing rate of infections in highly vaccinated states.

‘So the boosters will help to overcome the waning immunity and it’s up to us to become vigilant about those behaviors of handwashing, masking, social distancing, testing, vaccinations and those sorts of things. 

‘[There are] also colder temperatures up there, so people are probably gathered together more indoors again, and that gathering can can lead to easier spread, especially with Omicron.’ 



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