STATEN ISLAND, NY — As coronavirus (COVID-19) cases rise in New York City, it seems as if the metro area is entering its fifth wave of the pandemic, which first hit the city in March 2020.
The BA.2.12.1 variant of COVID-19 makes up about 37% of new coronavirus cases across the country, according to the latest data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
“In recent weeks, BA.2.12.1, an Omicron sublineage [sometimes called a ‘subvariant’], has emerged and is increasing in prevalence in parts of the country,” said the CDC in April. “Some early evidence suggests BA.2.12.1 is increasing in variant proportion faster than other Omicron sublineages. CDC is working to better understand BA.2.12.1, how it spreads, and how well existing treatments and vaccines for COVID-19 work against it.”
In New York State, two omicron subvariants — BA.2.12 and BA.2.12.1 — account for over 80% of coronavirus infections.
New York City also recently moved into the CDC’s “yellow,” or “medium,” threshold for community transmission, according to the city Health Department, due to the case rate surpassing 200 per 100,000 people.
Here is key information on booster shots, symptoms and more.
What are the symptoms?
Like the previous variants, BA.2.12.1 presents with upper respiratory symptoms similar to those of the flu.
Original COVID-19 symptoms include:
- fever or chills
- Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
- Muscle or body aches
- Loss of taste or smell
- sore throat
- Congestion or runny nose
- Nausea or vomiting
The omicron variant most often presented with sneezing, coughing and sore throat. Additional symptoms from BA.2 include fatigue and dizziness.
People experiencing difficulty breathing or chest pain or pressure should seek immediate medical attention, the CDC advises.
Should I get a second booster shot?
Top doctors on Staten Island are urging eligible residents to consider getting a second booster shot to help increase protection against COVID-19.
The CDC previously backed a plan to provide second booster doses for people over the age or 50 and those who are 12 and older who also have underlying conditions that put them at greater risk for severe infection.
While data indicated a second booster strengthened the body’s protection against severe infection, research found that reinforced deterrent to severe disease quickly began to wane. That drop-off in protection has caused controversy among experts over the use of additional booster doses.
But health officials are still urging residents, especially those at higher risk, to not underestimate COVID-19 as new infections begin to rise.
“The first booster dose has by far been shown to be very effective in terms of limiting one’s ability to get very sick. We’re not seeing people get as sick as opposed to those who are not boostered or have no vaccine,” said Dr. Theodore Strange, chairman of medicine at Staten Island University Hospital (SIUH). “The second booster has been more controversial.”
Dr. Philip Otterbeck, chairman of medicine at Richmond University Medical Center in West Brighton, said strong evidence supports the authorization of a second booster dose for older and immunocompromised people.
What about wearing a mask?
Masks are recommended for people at higher risk if infected with COVID-19. However, they are only required in certain spaces, such as public transportation and health-care facilities. New York City riders must still wear a mask on public transit, including the subway, buses and the Staten Island Ferry.
But if things continue to get worse in New York City, all options could be on the table, such as a return to mask mandates.
And as cases rise across the country, the CDC reasserted its recommendation for everyone over 2 years old to wear a well-fitting mask while either in mass transit or transportation hubs like airports.
The CDC said it made its recommendation based on currently available data and in light of virulent coronavirus variants that have sparked upticks in new cases.
Are there mandates in NYC?
No new mandates have been announced with New York City moving to a medium “yellow” threshold.
But City Health Commissioner Dr. Ashwin Vasan recommended that people at high risk, including those who didn’t get the vaccine, consider additional precautions, like avoiding crowded indoor gatherings.
He also recommended that people eligible for a booster shot get one.
What would happen if cases increase rapidly in NYC?
Mayor Eric Adams and health officials announced the new four-tier alert system in early March during a media conference announcing an end to the “Key to NYC” and public school mask mandates.
The color system is based on the “COVID-19 Community Levels” system from the CDC.
If “very high” is reached in New York City, local authorities will consider shutdowns similar to what was seen in the early days of the pandemic, according to a prior media release from the city.
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