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As Covid cases surge, NYC to give out a million masks and 500K free at-home tests

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With a sudden surge of coronavirus cases in New York City, Mayor Bill de Blasio on Thursday announced several new measures to curb the spread of the virus. The city will distribute one million free KN95 face masks and 500,000 rapid antigen self-testing kits, open new testing sites, and expand hours at existing sites. City officials say the new highly-contagious variant is to blame for the rising number of cases; the seven-day average for new cases has tripled in the last month. “It is clear the Omicron variant is here in New York City in full force,” de Blasio said on Thursday.


New Yorkers in line for Covid tests at 42nd Street and Third Avenue in Midtown; Photo © 6sqft

According to the city, community organizations will receive a regular allocation of self-test kits and KN95 masks to distribute to residents in their neighborhoods. The city has started to work with 150 organizations and expects to add more partners in the coming weeks. Groups located in areas with high rates of transmission and less access to testing will be part of the initial program, which will kick off on Monday, December 20.

De Blasio also said they will expand testing capacity by adding more mobile testing units as well as five new brick-and-mortar sites. City-run sites will also now be open seven days per week. At city testing sites with long lines, New Yorkers will be given the option to take a free self-testing kit instead of waiting.

The city will also be “doubling down” on inspections of businesses to ensure compliance with vaccination and mask mandates.

“What has worked for us as New Yorkers in the entire fight against Covid is being aggressive, being assertive, taking bold measures,” the mayor said. “We have been doing that, and we’re going to do that a lot more because we need to stop this variant. This variant moves fast. We need to move faster.”

New York City also launched an ad campaign to encourage New Yorkers to get their Covid booster shots. As of Thursday, roughly 1.5 million city residents have received their booster.

While hospitalizations have increased, they have gone up “steadily, but not radically,” according to de Blasio.

Dr. Dave Chokshi, the commissioner of the city’s Health Department, said data released this week shows unvaccinated New Yorkers are eight times more likely to have a Covid infection and 13 times more likely to be hospitalized with Covid.

“We are doing better from the perspective of serious illness, primarily due to vaccination,” Chokshi said on Thursday. “But we are seeing an increase, particularly in hospitalizations in recent days. This is where the action really comes into play because we know what can help us avert more severe disease is vaccination and the booster doses.”

Find a testing site near you here. Appointments can be made for rapid tests at city-run sites here. NYC Health and Hospitals have mobile testing units and brick-and-mortar sites that can be found here.

Note, the city’s Health Department provides free at-home testing for immunocompromised New Yorkers and those aged 65 and older. Schedule one by calling 929-298-9400. The city will then send a clinical professional to your home to administer the test.

And find where you can get your booster here.

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