New York City to issue 1 Million Masks and 500K Self-Test Kits as Omicron surges

By: Jaclyn Jeffrey Wilensky, Thursday December

New York City will build new testing sites, hand out one million masks and distribute half a million at-home tests to combat skyrocketing COVID cases that city officials are partially blaming on the highly contagious omicron variant, the de Blasio administration said Thursday.

The surge plan will also deploy inspectors as early as Friday to ensure businesses are complying with new vaccine and mask mandates.

“The data is showing an alarming trend,” New York City Health Commissioner Dr. Dave Chokshi said during an afternoon briefing alongside Mayor Bill de Blasio at Brooklyn’s Prospect Park. “Omicron is here in New York City, and it’s spreading quickly.”

The city will add five new brick-and-mortar testing sites, as well as a number of new mobile testing units, the mayor said.

City-run testing sites, including those at New York City Health + Hospitals and Gotham Community Health centers, will also now be open seven days a week. New Yorkers who encounter long lines at city-run testing sites will have the option to take home a free self-testing kit instead.

“We want to remove all barriers so that every New Yorker who’s made that sacrifice to come out to one of our sites does not leave empty handed and gets tested in a way that works for them,” Dr. Ted Long, the executive director of the Test & Trace Corps, said at the press conference.

Watch this video clip for more information

Starting Monday, the city will distribute the 500,000 self-testing kits to community groups in neighborhoods identified by the mayor’s Taskforce on Racial Inclusion and Equity as being especially hard-hit by the pandemic. The city will also give out the one million KN95 masks through those community groups, as well as Test & Trace sites and local clinics.

The city will launch a media campaign to encourage eligible New Yorkers to get their booster shots, which early research suggests offer extra protection against the new variant. So far, 1.5 million city dwellers have opted for an additional dose, the mayor said.

Inspections will also intensify to ensure employers are enforcing the vaccine and mask mandates for private businesses and the one-dose requirement for children between the ages of 5 and 11 at restaurants, theaters and other locations.

The health commissioner also issued updated guidance to older adults and those with health conditions that could put them at risk for severe COVID, urging them to avoid crowded settings and gatherings with unvaccinated people. Chokshi added that all New Yorkers should wear face masks indoors in public, with higher-quality masks like KN95s, KF94s and N95s preferred.

COVID cases have tripled citywide in the last month and are projected to continue rising, Chokshi said.

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