In what has been a busy week for Mayor Eric Adams, he met model Gigi Hadid at Netflix’s studio in Brooklyn. He visited a college to promote a new degree in video game design. And he visited the State Capitol in Albany to push for renewal of the mayor’s control over schools.
But as New York City entered the high risk level for the coronavirus, Mr. Adams held no public events to warn residents of the surge in cases.
Mr Adams insisted he would not bring back mask and vaccine mandates and instead focus on antiviral treatments and home testing.
While many U.S. cities have long since abandoned public health precautions, New York and other Democratic-led cities like Los Angeles and Philadelphia have taken a more cautious approach to battling surges of the virus. Now, even as cases and hospitalizations rise again, these cities can resemble the rest of the nation in focusing on a return to normality and personal responsibility.
In New York, rather than sounding the alarm about the city’s heightened risk level, Mr Adams repeatedly pointed out that his infection in April was mild, in part because he had taken the antiviral drug Paxlovid.
“I think the reason we’re here and not seeing drastic action is because we’ve done an incredible job of telling people – vaccines, boosters,” Mr Adams said during a briefing. a recent press conference. “When I got hit with Covid it was just a tickle in my throat. I was still able to exercise, I had no breathing problems, no pain.
Mr Adams, a Democrat who took office in January, appears to be weighing several factors: He did not call for warrants because hospitalizations and deaths rose more slowly than in previous waves, due to a possible political cost to pass restrictions that have fatigued the public, and because they are concerned about the impact on the city’s catering, tourism and economic recovery.
But some health experts have criticized the mayor’s approach and fear that letting the virus spread widely could harm the city’s most vulnerable residents. They believe the city should reinstate mask and vaccine mandates, but acknowledge that it would be politically difficult to do so.
The city is now recording more than 4,000 cases a day, a figure likely to be much higher because most home tests are not counted in the official tally. On Tuesday, more than 770 people in the city were hospitalized with Covid and 84 were in intensive care
Mr Adams said this week that he does not plan to bring back the mandates unless the hospital system reaches a “state of emergency” or trends in that direction. The new alert system Mr. Adams approved in March recommends instituting a mask mandate for indoor public places at the current level of risk.
Health experts have argued that waiting for hospitals and health workers to be overwhelmed would be too late. Some elected officials like Mark Levine, the Manhattan borough president, support the return of a mask mandate for most indoor public places.
“I want it to be a city that can turn protective measures on and off when we hit a surge,” Levine said. “I would like to see us do more and push harder right now.”
On a Thursday call with Anne Williams-Isom, one of Mr. Adams’ deputy mayors, community groups and disability advocates expressed strong support for a mask mandate for indoor spaces, according to someone. one who participated in the call. Ms Williams-Isom said she would take their message to the mayor.
Mr. Adams’ approach mirrors the tone of other leaders like Governor Kathy Hochul and President Biden who are eager to move beyond the pandemic and focus on economic recovery. Governor Philip D. Murphy of New Jersey also resisted reinstating the mandates and removed a mask mandate on New Jersey Transit trains traveling into the city.
Ms Hochul, who recently tested positive for the virus, has kept a mask mandate in place on public transport, but she has not set wider restrictions despite a sharp increase in the upstate of New York. Ms. Hochul faces an additional political calculus — she is in the middle of her campaign for a full term as governor and needs support from more conservative corners of the state.
Many business leaders support the mayor’s approach, including Kathryn Wylde, president of the Partnership for New York City, an influential business group.
“New Yorkers have demonstrated that they have the common sense to follow safety protocols, including masks where appropriate,” she said. “Reversing the progress made in reopening the city would be a blow to the recovery but also seems unnecessary at this stage.”
The city’s health commissioner, Dr. Ashwin Vasan, issued an order on Monday urging all residents to wear medical-grade masks in offices, grocery stores, schools and other indoor public places in the city. A day later, he announced that the city had reached the high alert level, triggered by rising hospital admissions.
Mr Adams said the city was settling into a “new normal” as variations arrived.
“If every variation that comes, we go to shutdown thoughts, we go to panic, we’re not going to run like a city,” Adams said Wednesday.
But former mayor Bill de Blasio and his health commissioner, Dr Dave Chokshi, who stayed on through the early months of the Adams administration and designed the new alert system in March, made encouraging public comments. Mr. Adams preparing to return to warrants.
“I would say this as a friendly reminder to keep these powerful tools available,” Mr. de Blasio said in a radio interview last week. “You might need it very soon.”
Mr. de Blasio, who oversaw the city’s response during the worst waves of the virus, held near-daily virtual briefings on the virus, sometimes inviting outside health experts like Dr. Wafaa El-Sadr, professor of epidemiology and medicine at the Columbia Mailman School of Public Health and Dr. Celine Gounder, infectious disease expert at New York University. He rolled out some of the most aggressive health measures in the country, including a vaccination mandate for municipal workers and private employers that is still in effect.
Mr. Adams has relied on a handful of key advisers to shape his response to the virus: Dr. Vasan, an epidemiologist who previously ran a mental health nonprofit; Dr. Mitchell Katz, the head of the city’s hospital system; Ms. Williams-Isom, Deputy Mayor for Health and Social Services; Dan Weisberg, first vice-chancellor of schools; and Dr. Ted Long, executive director of the city’s test and trace body. The group meets almost every morning in a virtual call to discuss the latest data.
Mr Adams said the message from hospital and school leaders was clear: “They are all saying the same thing. They say, ‘Look, we have this. We are not overwhelmed.
But Dr. Chokshi, the former health commissioner, said in a recent interview that with each new surge of cases in the city, elected officials and New Yorkers often have a “collective amnesia” about how to respond. .
“People would say, ‘Well, it’s just the cases that are going up, let’s see what happens to the hospitalizations,’” he said. “For me, as someone steeped in this, and especially understanding epidemiology, it’s hard not to get your head blown off when you feel the public, and in many cases the political conversation, going in these circles. And you’re like, ‘Wow, when are we going to learn.’”
Some health experts agreed that it would be difficult at this stage of the pandemic to reinstate broad mandates unless the health system becomes seriously overburdened. At the same time, having an alert system but not acting on its recommendations can confuse the public and weaken trust, especially if the change is not carefully explained.
“It absolutely makes sense to pick a set of indicators and use that to decide what action to take,” said Dr. Jay Varma, who served as senior health adviser to Mr. de Blasio. “It’s useful to publish a weather report, but you have to be clear about how you use it.”
Short of mandates, several experts said, the Adams administration should do more to convince people of the gravity of the current moment, even among those who have been vaccinated and who are not personally afraid of dying from the virus. For example, a refreshed public health campaign could focus on the importance of wearing masks to protect the vulnerable, the long-term risks of Covid, or the increased risk of cardiovascular disease after Covid-19.
Mr. Adams has focused on free home delivery of antiviral drugs like Paxlovid and distributing millions of home tests to students in public schools and in libraries and museums. His administration says it has distributed 35,000 antiviral treatments, which have avoided nearly 2,000 hospitalizations.
The city leads the nation in vaccination rates, but recall rates have stalled. An estimated 88% of adults in the city are fully immunized; only 46% received a booster dose.
New Yorkers with disabilities and weakened immune systems fear the city’s new approach won’t protect them. Emily Ladau, a disability rights advocate who lives on Long Island and visits the city frequently, said few people are wearing masks because the mayor hasn’t clearly conveyed the message that they matter.
“There’s a huge difference between masking and a lockdown,” she said. “I don’t think it should be that hard to put on a mask and protect people around you.”
Joseph Goldstein, Sharon Otterman and Dana Rubinstein contributed report.