By STEVE BITTENBENDER
THE CENTER SQUARE CONTRIBUTOR
(The Center Square) —New York has seen a sharp rise in the number of COVID-19 cases because of the omicron variant, but state leaders said Monday it’s not a worst-case scenario.
The number of new hospital admissions for children with COVID-19 jumped from 70 to 184 in two weeks through last week. That was fueled by a nearly 400% increase in New York City during that period, with new cases in kids going from 22 to 109.
Statewide, on Christmas Eve, more than 49,700 new positive cases were reported, more than double the then-record 23,391 cases reported Dec. 20.
New York’s acting Health Commissioner Dr. Mary Bassett told reporters Monday the state is “a long way from the type of tsunami” it experienced nearly two years ago at the onset of the health emergency.
“This is a highly contagious virus, but it’s clear at this point that it doesn’t cause a severe illness,” she said.
There is a concern, though, in the number of cases. While hospitalizations may only occur in a fraction of cases, “a small fraction of a big number can be a big number,” the acting commissioner said.
The New York Department of Health sent out an alert to providers late last week, noting the rise in children’s hospitalizations to encourage pediatricians and families to vaccinate kids age 5 and older.
The concern with hospitalizations stems from having enough beds available. Gov. Kathy Hochul said Monday that bed capacity has increased by about 8%. Still, about 25 hospitals statewide have had to postpone elective procedures and take other steps because they are operating at less than 10% availability.
Hospitals also are working with less staff because of the vaccination mandate the state implemented, and federal courts have upheld, for health care providers. That has led to the state dispatching National Guard units to help tend to patients who could be discharged but cannot get into a long-term care facility.
While the state is encouraging more kids to get vaccinated, state leaders also are working on getting millions of test kits out to schools. New York City will get 2 million, and 3.3 million tests will be made available to other districts.
Gov. Hochul and Dr. Bassett said their priority is to keep schools open.
“We understand, now, the huge cost of having children’s education disrupted in terms of their socialization, their mental health, as well as their progression educationally,” Dr. Bassett said.
Before Gov. Hochul ended her news conference, however, she told reporters she still reserves the ability to take different action if the circumstances require that.
The governor said Friday she would unveil plans for the state’s response to “winter surge 2.0” and the preparations that already have started.