By now, it’s clear what Mayor Adams and Health Commissioner Ashwin Vasan are up against in the toolbox for controlling COVID. They oppose the continuation of Key to NYC, which barred unvaccinated people from many private businesses. They are opposed to implementing the private employee vaccine mandate that Bill de Blasio hastily concocted as he left office. They have removed a color coded alarm system. They are no longer interested in supporting the massive test-and-trace bureaucracy created in 2020. And while they demand indoor masking, they are against requiring face coverings except on public transport, even as cases rise.
We generally agree with these decisions as the city moves from the throes of a public health emergency to a phase in which variants of the virus prove far less deadly, though more contagious, and individuals are increasingly responsible for understanding how to get back to something like normal while protecting their health and that of their families.
But it would be helpful if Adams and Vasan explained in a clearer and more coordinated way, not only what they are against in this new climate, but what they are for, bringing new ideas to life. policies and guidelines to give confidence that the city knows what it is doing to keep people alive and well. It’s silly to write such a plan in Sharpie; as the virus evolves, so will it. But coaches go into games with game plans, then adjust them as needed. So should Adams and Vasan.
The comprehensive, connected strategy should have a clear message: that New York will not bow to the virus, but will do what it can to stay ahead of it, accepting many infections as part of life, not losing no chance of preventing further hospitalization and death.
What should it include?
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One, a new targeted vaccine campaign. Nearly nine out of 10 adults in the city are vaccinated, but in some neighborhoods and populations, rates are much lower. The city needs to make another push to protect people with a few sure shots in the arm. And back to 53% of New Yorkers unrestricted to prompt a third strike.
Two, more widespread availability of high-quality masks. Expanding existing work in this area would cost the city a pittance to purchase many N95 or KN95 respirators and distribute them through reliable channels. The result would be the avoidance of many infections.
Three, the best distribution of free, in-house tests, again building on a solid foundation. With most brick-and-mortar locations understandably closed, these tests are the best way to keep COVID-positive patients from passing the virus on to 10, 20, or 30 other people. Distribute them everywhere.
Four, it builds on the Department of Health’s good work in sending Paxlovid and prescribing it immediately to many mobile testing sites to make the antiviral even more accessible.
Five, focus on the children. Children are, relatively speaking, less vulnerable to COVID – but the virus can still occasionally hit them hard and even kill them. In addition to needing vaccinations for schoolchildren, who already must be vaccinated for measles and a half-dozen other largely extinct plagues, the city must provide services to about 9,000 youth who have lost a caregiver to COVID.
Six, make sure those suffering from COVID get the specialized medical help they need from clinics around the city — while monitoring their illnesses to learn all we can about the sometimes mysterious group of conditions.
Finally, develop a strategy to improve indoor air quality. We’re not in favor of costly new mandates for small businesses, but time and money invested wisely will help prevent the spread of this and other ills. Healthier air will lead to a healthier city.