NEW YORK — New York State tallied more than 67,000 new coronavirus cases on Wednesday, Gov. Kathy Hochul said, a jaw-dropping all-time record that reflected both the explosive omicron surge and improved availability of testing.
Hochul said the wave was sure to smack hospitals that have battled staffing challenges in recent days and underscored the need for a careful, safe approach to New Year’s Eve.
The state’s daily case count has climbed by more than 700% since the start of the month, and shows no signs of slowing.
In a news conference in Plattsburgh, Hochul predicted the worst is yet to come, warning of an incoming “January surge.”
“We know it’s coming, and we’re naive to think it won’t: We just had, a few days ago, families travel all over the country,” the governor said bluntly. “We do think that there’s going to be a spike in cases that’s going to continue not just in our positive rates, but also in hospitalizations.”
For the second straight day, the state’s test positivity rate was about 19%. The previous daily record for cases, 49,708, came after Christmas and stemmed in part from a rush to test ahead of the holiday.
As has been the case throughout the 21-month-old pandemic, case counts are viewed as significant undercounts. Many New Yorkers have tested positive with at-home tests and have not reported their cases to health authorities.
Deaths and hospitalizations, which lag cases, are also climbing, but at a much slower rate. Ninety-seven New Yorkers died of coronavirus on Tuesday, Hochul said.
“That is not the direction we want to go,” the governor said. “It is heartbreaking.”
The heavily mutated, immunity-dodging omicron variant is believed to generate less severe cases, on average, than previous strains. Vaccinations significantly blunt the risk, and breakthrough cases have tended to be mild.
Still, the tally of hospital admissions has jumped by more than 220% since the start of the month, when the state was already reckoning with a devilish delta flare-up.
Now, New York is eyeing a ceaseless omicron storm on the eve of a new year, as the latest front in the pandemic stretches the basic functioning of society.
Essential services are buckling as workers call in sick, and the rate of hospital admissions among young children — who are mostly unvaccinated — has surged this month.
Schools may soon battle a teacher shortage. The city subway system warned this week of delayed service due to infected workers. And hospitals are pressing to maintain anemic staffing levels.
In reaction to the wave, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention this week shortened the recommended minimum isolation period for infected Americans from 10 days to five days.
Hochul called on New Yorkers across the state to spend New Year’s Eve in the safety of fresh, chilly air.
“It would be great if everybody would just stand outside,” the governor said. She continued her chorus of calls for New Yorkers to wear masks inside, too.
Cases are spiking from Brooklyn to Buffalo. New York City recorded 39,591 cases on Wednesday, according to state data.
Thirteen new testing sites opened Wednesday in the state, including five in New York City, according to Hochul’s office. The state is also working to ramp up testing availability for children before schools reopen.
Hochul, de Blasio and Eric Adams, who is due to become New York City’s mayor this weekend, formed a united front in a news conference on Tuesday as they outlined their plans to reopen schools at the start of next week.
Some health experts are wary of the plan to relaunch in-person classes on Monday given omicron’s relentless replication, but closures appear politically toxic. Officials have said that COVID-19 spreads less readily in schools than in many other spaces.
“Your children are safer in school,” Adams said Tuesday. “The numbers speak for themselves.”
Evidence has not surfaced to suggest that omicron cases pose a greater threat to children than infections from previous variants. The uptick in hospital admissions seems to stem from the rapid proliferation of omicron.
Most young children who have been hospitalized had not received vaccine shots, according to state data.
Children remain a small fraction of the roughly 6,800 New Yorkers hospitalized with COVID-19 in New York State. The overall hospital admissions count climbed by 594 on Wednesday.
“I’m so excited to say goodbye to 2021,” said Hochul, who is guiding the state through a perilous stretch after becoming governor in August. “I really want it to be over.”