New York City will give out half a million free at-home COVID-19 tests in an effort to fight the spread of the omicron variant as cases mount in the city.
In a press conference Thursday, Mayor Bill de Blasio warned that there has been a “very substantial increase” in cases in recent days.
“It is clear the omicron variant is here in New York City in full force,” he added.
The city is responding by distributing some 500,000 rapid at-home tests for free through community organizations and clinics, which are also giving out about 1 million KN95 masks.
In an “alarming trend,” per city health commissioner Dr. Dave Chokshi, the seven-day average in new cases in New York City has tripled over the last month.
The city will also increase mobile and brick-and-mortar testing sites, and expand hours and staffing at existing sites.
Chokshi said coronavirus cases are expected to keep increasing in the lead-up to the holidays and urged everyone eligible to get vaccinated, and for fully vaccinated people to get a booster shot.
As omicron spreads nationwide, health experts have urged people to get vaccinated or boosted as soon as they are eligible, citing preliminary findings that show the vaccines provide good protection against the omicron variant — keeping them from getting severe cases, being hospitalized or dying — particularly when people get their booster.
“The key is vaccination; it has always been, it will always be,” de Blasio said.
The mayor added that getting tested is “absolutely crucial” so people who get COVID-19 can then quarantine and keep from spreading the virus to others.
Some 71% of New York City residents are fully vaccinated so far (this figure does not account for boosters).
People who are vaccinated and get a breakthrough case of COVID-19 are still highly protected from hospitalization and death, according to health experts.
“The facts are clear: Each new variant makes it more important to get vaccinated,” commissioner Chokshi said, noting that omicron’s spread makes “the stakes even higher for each individual to get vaccinated,” because the shots “will protect them and, most importantly, keep people out of the hospitals.”