Mayor Bill de Blasio announced on Sunday that New York City would continue to expand testing and emphasize vaccinations and boosters amid an increased demand for tests as omicron drives a surge in new COVID cases. 

During a news conference, the mayor and the city’s health commissioner, Dr. Dave Chokshi, also urged older New Yorkers and those who are immunocompromised to avoid “optional events.” 

At the same time, however, they said healthy children should continue to attend school or daycare, arguing that such settings were safe and critical to their overall well-being.  

“We expect these next few weeks to see a very, very big surge in the number of cases more than we've seen previously,” de Blasio said. “And then we expect after a period of time that it will dissipate.”

As an example of the sudden spike, the mayor said there were more than 5,730 new cases over a seven-day average in the city, representing a three-fold increase since the start of the month. 

In a scene eerily reminiscent of last winter, long lines outside testing sites have once again become common. Although at-home antigen testing kits are now an option, stores have been quickly selling out as many people attempt to stock up on the tests.

City health officials, who had shifted resources toward vaccinations, are now scrambling to make testing more widely available again. 

By Tuesday, the city will add eight new testing sites across the five boroughs, according to Dr. Ted Long, the executive director of the Test & Trace Corps. In addition, he said, the city intends to roll out another 17 mobile vans.

Altogether, there will be more than 30 brick-and-mortar testing locations and around 93 mobile vans.

Chokshi on Sunday recommended that New Yorkers wear high-quality masks such as a KN95, KF94, or N95. On Thursday, the city announced that it would distribute 1 million masks and 500,000 self-testing kits through community organizations. 

Despite the alarming rise in infections, city health officials said there are signs that omicron is producing milder cases that will not result in severe illness or inundated hospitals. “We think the outcomes—what happens to people—is going to be very much better this time,” de Blasio said. “But it will be even more true if we keep intensifying our vaccination effort.”

Toward that end, he said the city would double down on its vaccination efforts, spending $10 million on a media campaign to urge New Yorkers to get boosters, improving access to boosters at nursing homes, and intensifying the focus on getting 5-to-11-year-old children vaccinated. 

De Blasio also called on President Joe Biden to invoke the Defense Production Act to provide the city with more tests, vaccines, as well as monoclonal antibody treatments which are administered in hospitals and have been shown to significantly reduce the risk of death and length of hospitalization. Orders for the drugs by states skyrocketed during the summer and into the fall as infections soared. 

De Blasio also urged Biden to hasten the approval of Pfizer’s antiviral pill, which the drugmaker recently said is nearly 90% effective in preventing death or hospitalization from COVID-19.

In a show of unity, de Blasio was joined by Mayor-elect Eric Adams at the start of his press conference. “He and I and our teams are speaking every day,” Adams said, after praising the current mayor’s efforts. He added that there had been “unprecedented coordination” between the two going into the transition.

But Adams left the press conference shortly before de Blasio turned to reporters. Among the unanswered questions has been whether the mayor-elect intends to keep the private vaccine mandate that de Blasio has set to start on December 27th, four days before he leaves office. The mandate requires all of the city's private sector employees to provide proof of at least one COVID shot to their employers by that date. Employers must keep compliance records on file or face fines starting at $1,000.

During an MSNBC interview shortly after de Blasio’s press conference, Adams, who has indicated that he wants to be more pro-business than his predecessor, said he would make his decision known next month. 

“We’re going to re-evaluate what the mayor is attempting to do with all mandates in offices and businesses,” he said. “And I’ll make a determination on the day of January 1st. Right now, we have one mayor.”

De Blasio had initially said the city would hold a Times Square ball drop event that would be open to all vaccinated individuals. But asked about the festivities in light of the omicron surge, he suggested that the plans may change. “We're going to make a decision before Christmas,” he said. “We're certainly looking at the new challenge we're facing.”