Soaring COVID-19 case numbers, long testing lines and event cancellations might feel a bit like déjà vu, but so far New York City hospitals aren’t seeing a repeat of the surges that swamped emergency rooms early in the pandemic.
The state reported Saturday that nearly 22,000 people had tested positive for COVID-19 on Friday — eclipsing the previous day's mark for the highest single-day total for new cases since testing became widely available. More than half of the positive results were in the city.
The Rockettes on Friday canceled remaining performances of the Radio City Christmas Spectacular, citing “increasing challenges from the pandemic,” lines at some testing sites in the city stretched around the block and at-home tests remained hard to come by, or pricier than usual.
But new hospitalizations and deaths — so far — are averaging well below their spring 2020 peak and even where they were this time last year, during a winter wave that came as vaccinations were just beginning, city data shows.
Mount Sinai Health System’s emergency departments are seeing about 20% more patients — with all conditions — in recent days, according to Dr. Eric Legome, who oversees two of the network’s seven EDs. But at least so far, “we’re seeing a lot more treat-and-release” coronavirus patients than in earlier waves, he said.
Many are looking for tests, help with mild or moderate symptoms, or monoclonal antibody treatment, but very few require oxygen or a hospital stay, said Legome. He runs the EDs at Mount Sinai West and Mount Sinai Morningside.
Hospital admissions and deaths tend to rise and fall weeks after cases do. But Dr. Fritz François, the chief of hospital operations for NYU Langone Health, says so far, “we’re actually seeing something different” than in previous surges.
For one thing, COVID-19 patients are going home a bit quicker, he said.
NYU Langone has seen a small uptick in patients with COVID-19, now totaling about 80 in its several hospitals in New York City and nearby Long Island. That’s about 80% less than the tally at the top of last winter’s wave, François said.
NYU Langone keeps refreshing its plans to handle a surge if it comes, but such preparedness is just “the new normal,” he said.
At the sprawling Northwell Health system, too, “we’ll be prepared to do it again if it happens,” but vaccinations and nearly two years of experience make for a different picture now, said Dr. John D’Angelo, the chief of integrated operations.
“I’m confident we’ll get through this, but there are some challenges this time around that I think we’re going to have to think through a bit carefully,” he said.
Among them: The possibility of more staffers being out sick or in quarantine as omicron spreads at a time when many hospitals around the country have been short on staff, for various reasons. Northwell dismissed about 1,400 people — about 2% of its staff — early this fall for refusing to get vaccinated. Still, D’Angelo said it has enough staff to handle its projected needs.
Northwell, the state’s largest private healthcare system with nearly two dozen hospitals in and around New York City, had about 400 COVID-19-positive patients as of Friday — up from around 300 a few weeks ago, but a fraction of the 1,350 at one point last January, to say nothing of the 3,500 in early spring 2020.
About a quarter are vaccinated, up from about 10-15% a month ago, mostly people with underlying health problems, D’Angelo said.
The NewYork-Presbyterian hospital system said it has seen “a slow but steady” increase in COVID-19 admissions, but all its hospitals are operating normally.