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NYC Nears High Covid-Alert Level, May Consider Requiring Masks

Bloomberg logoBloomberg 5/16/2022 Luke McGrath
People order food inside of Katz's Delicatessen on April 30, 2020 in the Lower East Side neighborhood in New York City. © Photographer: Stephanie Keith/Getty Images People order food inside of Katz's Delicatessen on April 30, 2020 in the Lower East Side neighborhood in New York City.

(Bloomberg) -- New York City is preparing to hit a high Covid-transmission level in the coming days that would have it reconsidering mask requirements in public places.

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“If NYC’s Alert Level is raised to High, the City will consider requiring face masks in all public indoor settings,” according to guidance on the city health department’s website.

Alert levels take into account cases, hospital admissions and the percentage of inpatient beds that are occupied by Covid-19 patients. Early in May, the city moved to a medium alert from low after surpassing 200 new cases per 100,000 people over a seven-day period.

As of May 13, new cases were at 292. A high alert level is triggered when new hospital admissions over seven days surpass 10 per 100,000 and the percentage of staffed inpatient beds occupied by Covid patients is greater than 10%, according to guidance from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“New York City is preparing to potentially enter a high COVID-19 alert level in the coming days and strongly recommends that all New Yorkers mask up in public indoor settings to protect themselves and others,” according to a statement Monday from Mayor Eric Adams’s office.

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Video: People Urged to Mask Up as COVID Cases Continue to Rise in New York (Money Talks News)

At a press conference on Monday, Adams said the city was not at the point of considering a mask requirement. Officials would prepare and urge caution, but not panic, he said.

“We put in place rules based on what Covid did previously and how we responded to Covid based on the tools that we had,” Adams said. “To just say, well, you wrote this on paper, now you must follow it, well, that’s not how I govern.”

New admissions are at 9.8 per 100,000 and increasing, while 4.14% of inpatients beds were occupied by Covid patients as of May 13. Cases, though, showed signs of possibly leveling off.

Under a high alert level, in addition to masking indoors, New Yorkers are recommended to limit gatherings to small numbers and get tested if they have symptoms, were exposed, traveled or were at a large event. 

The city is distributing 16.5 million at-home Covid tests over the next month in an effort to prepare for another wave. The increase in tests will bring the total amount distributed to more than 36 million.

Most of the US remained at a low Covid community transmission-level as of May 12, with medium and high alerts mostly concentrated in the northeast, CDC data show. The nationwide seven-day case rate as of May 15 is 190 per 100,000, up from 76 a month earlier. The rate surged to more than 1,700 per 100,000 during the omicron surge in January. 

Read more: Covid Shots’ Protection Is Better Than Hospital Counts Indicate

(Updates with comments from mayor)

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