As New York City enters the holiday season, with COVID-19 and other seasonal illnesses showing unusually high concurrent spikes. New York City Health Commissioner, Dr. Ashwin Vasan on Friday issued a health advisory urging New York City residents to use high-quality masks when indoors and in crowded outdoor settings.
To help slow the transmission of these viruses, Dr. Vasan said masking up indoors and in crowded outdoor settings is especially important for people who are – or are meeting – those who are at increased risk for complications from COVID-19, RSV, or the flu, such as those 65 and older and people who are immunocompromised.
“The holiday season is about togetherness, and there is a way to gather safely — even as respiratory viruses in our city are unusually high,” said Dr. Vasan in a statement. “It starts with protecting yourself.
“Vaccination and boosters are critical but so are common sense precautions like masking when indoors or among crowds and staying home if you don’t feel well,” he added. “Also, get tested before getting together, and get treated quickly if you test positive. We want everyone to have a happy and — most of all — healthy holiday.”
The Health Commissioner’s Advisory also urges people to get vaccinated for COVID-19 and flu, even if they have been vaccinated previously.
It urges everyone ages six months or older to get their COVID-19 primary series, if they haven’t already, and receive the updated bivalent COVID-19 booster when eligible.
An annual flu shot is recommended for everyone six months and older. Many pharmacies and doctors’ offices offer both flu and COVID-19 vaccines, and it is safe to get them at the same time, the advisory said.
It said the city will continue to make vaccination and masking resources available to New Yorkers.
For example, between Oct. 29 and Nov. 25, around 70 community partners, along with Health Department staff, carried out the following activities: Engaged 83,558 community members at 917 in-person street level outreach events; engaged 4,109 community members at 122 in-person community conversations; and engaged 45,093 virtual community members at 29 virtual community conversations.
Health Department staff and community partners also made 24,367 vaccine referrals, 6,181 testing referrals and 38,778 referrals to other health and social services; and distributed 116,066 pieces of educational literature, 344,576 face masks and 80,526 Home Tests Kits.
The Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH) said this is part of the overall engagement effort since July 2021 to Nov. 25, 2022, including: Engaged 1,664,561 community members at 30,544 in-person street level outreach events; made 1,011,454 vaccine referrals, 272,872 testing referrals and 546,377 referrals to other health and social services; and distributed 5,402,745 pieces of educational literature, 3,602,719 KN95 face masks and 614,023 Home Tests Kits.
DOHMH said this does not include the extensive resources provided by partners such as Test-and-Trace and others.
The city also continues to launch vaccination pop-ups and other efforts to promote vaccine access and equity.
DOHMH said people who are at increased risk of severe illness from respiratory viruses, including people 65 and older, infants, people with a weakened immune system, people with certain underlying medical conditions, people who are pregnant, and people who are not up to date on flu or COVID-19 vaccinations should consider additional precautions to avoid exposure to respiratory viruses.
These precautions include wearing a higher quality mask, such as KN95 and KF94 mask or N95 respirator, limiting attendance at large indoor gatherings, wearing a mask when gathering with others, and asking people to wear a mask and get a COVID-19 test prior to gathering.
As the holidays approach, DOHMH said New Yorkers can help protect their loved ones from COVID by getting tested before and after gatherings and wearing a mask around people who are at increased risk of severe respiratory illness.
“If you are sick, stay home, avoid close contact with others, and talk to your provider about what testing, care and treatment is right for you,” DOHMH urged. “You can call your health care provider or 212-COVID19 (212-268-4319) to ask about treatment.”
With respiratory illnesses on the rise, DOHMH said it is closely monitoring the COVID-19, influenza, RSV, hospital and syndromic surveillance data.
DOHMH said it has noted high levels of cases and hospitalizations for COVID, flu and RSV.
“The combined impact of these respiratory illnesses puts individuals at risk and risks straining our healthcare system,” the statement said.
To find a nearby COVID-19 and flu vaccination provider, visit NYC Vaccine Finder or call 877-VAX-4NYC (877-829-4692) to schedule an appointment at certain sites, and for other vaccination assistance.