More than two years into the pandemic, Covid is still proving disruptive in some major U.S. cities, including New York. Due to the swift spread of a new variant, poised to eventually replace a weakened Omicron in a matter of days, tourists are now being urged to wear face masks in indoor and public settings across NYC to help contain the surge.
Throughout the pandemic, NYC authorities have resorted to a number of restrictive measures in their attempts to quash the virus. From broader lockdowns to vaccine mandates, tourists have had to constantly adapt to this city’s ever-changing landscape, and the ‘mask comeback’ is only an extension of that:
Masks Are Again Being Recommended In All Indoor Settings In NYC
This Monday, Ashwin Vasan, NYC’s Commissioner of Health and Human Hygiene, advised all residents and tourists to wear a face mask ‘at all times’ when in indoor venues and even public spaces, as the city’s Covid management team is growing increasingly concerned about the dissemination of the new BA.2.12.1 variant.
This is a recommendation, not a requirement, as face masks have already ceased being mandatory in most settings in the U.S. Regardless of being optional, mask usage is again being officially advised and could become widespread in New York. Even worse: should the situation turn truly dire, there is nothing stopping the government from taking further action.
In their advisory issued May 17, the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene reiterated New Yorkers and visitors should use ‘high-quality masks’. Namely, KN95 and KP94 face masks, or N95 respirators, which provide more protection than the much more popular reusable, personalized cloth face masks.
In sum, KN95, KP94 masks and N95 respirators now should be worn in various indoor settings, including the following:
- The metro and all other forms of public transportation
- Grocery stores
- Building lobbies
- Meeting rooms
The advice applies to everyone, but especially those at a higher risk of developing serious symptoms from Covid, including anyone over the age of 65 or who are unvaccinated. It seems that unlike Mexico and countless other destinations worldwide, New York will not be treating Covid as endemic anytime soon.
How Actually Dangerous Is This New Variant?
The BA.2.12.1 is an Omicron-derived subvariant that has appeared right when the mandatory mask mandate in public transportation was struck down. Scientists still don’t know whether the revamped Omicron is indeed a more serious threat, though it is certainly equally, if not even more contagious than the original version, having driven up infection figures considerably in a matter of days.
In other U.S. cities, cases are also spiraling out of control again, with Los Angeles registering a much higher hospitalization rate, meaning masks could also come back in California. Down in Texas, Houston is experiencing a similar surge, with local expert warning this ‘hidden Covid wave‘ is comparable to Omicron and could be just as dangerous.
According to data published by the CDC, it is 25% more transmissible than BA.2, the previous Omicron mutation responsible for 48% of new cases in the U.S. last week. Despite the circulation of BA.2, which is yet to completely wane, BA.2.12.1 is bound to become dominant in record time, as infections with this variant are already up 39% compared to the previous week.
Covid Alert Levels In New York Are ‘High’
Once more, the pressure on NYC’s health care system seems to be building up, leading authorities to act swiftly and raise the city’s Covid alert levels to ‘high’. As Dr. Vasan stresses, this means ‘now is the time to double down’ on protecting oneself and others by wearing face masks, regardless of previous infection history or vaccination status.
Dr. Vasan continues by saying that, as a well-equipped city, New York has all the necessary tools to mitigate the impacts of BA.2.12.1, such as new Covid treatments, distribution of tests and masks. However well prepared it might be, Vasan states New York still needs the cooperation of residents and tourists, as ‘getting back to Low Risk depends on everyone doing their part’.
While the recent infection trends are worrying, the health official has revealed the official forecasts indicate the current wave ‘will not last long’, though it all depends on public support for more restrictive measures.
For now, masks remain optional, though their usage is being strongly encouraged in poorly ventilated venues.
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Disclaimer: Current travel rules and restrictions can change without notice. The decision to travel is ultimately your responsibility. Contact your consulate and/or local authorities to confirm your nationality’s entry and/or any changes to travel requirements before traveling. Travel Off Path does not endorse traveling against government advisories