No, it’s not in your head. There are more ambulance sirens blaring around New York City.

Daily calls to 911 for fevers and coughs have more than doubled since the start of December, according to data shared by the New York City Fire Department (FDNY). A department spokesperson is also reporting that more paramedics and EMTs are currently out sick relative to any other point in the pandemic.

The number of daily emergencies had been on the rise since late November, when fewer than 400 calls were coming a day for fever and cough symptoms. On Sunday, the most recent data available, the FDNY received 767 calls for fevers and coughs. That number surpassed last winter’s peak and was halfway to the levels recorded in early April 2020, the height of New York City’s first wave.

Amid the spike in calls, 30% of the city’s 4,400 emergency medical services (EMS) staff were out sick as of Wednesday, according to Frank Dwyer, an FDNY spokesperson. He added that the surge in people out sick was a combination of COVID-positive workers, those who’d been exposed and staff awaiting test results. The omicron variant, which is considered dominant in New York, continues to create weekly records in new cases.

While the fever and cough calls could be partially due to the flu, which is also rising, the FDNY is also witnessing an increase in calls from people hoping to get a COVID-19 test or to be transported to a hospital for one, but did not otherwise need emergency care, Dwyer said. He implored New Yorkers to reserve calling 911 just for life-threatening emergencies.

“Our resources are impacted right now because of this, and we're trying to make sure we prioritize those resources for folks who are really in a bad way and need our help,” Dwyer said. “If it’s not a true emergency, please don’t call 911. If it is a true emergency -- like you’ve got shortness of breath, chest pains -- absolutely call us.”

Vincent Variele, the president of the Uniformed EMS officers Union FDNY, said his members, like many health care workers, were exhausted by yet another wave of the coronavirus bearing down on the city.

“It’s taking a toll on them,” Variele said. “They’re drained and burnt out. It’s putting a real serious strain on our workforce.”

Many industries across New York City had been strained recently as COVID-19 case counts exploded, breaking records for new daily infections starting in mid-December. More than 30,000 new cases were detected on a single day last week. The MTA scaled back train service due to a surge of workers out sick, and Apple closed stores for in-store shopping. On Wednesday, CityMD closed more of its private urgent care locations after initially shuttering 12% of its operation last week.

COVID-19 hospitalizations, too, are surging, with emergency department admissions nearly tripling since the start of the month. As of December 27, about 3,000 New Yorkers were currently in hospitals with COVID across the city, according to state data, five times as many people as the start of the month.

“If we were thinking that this was going to be less severe, it really is just a hope at this point because we just don’t know,” said Dr. Denis Nash, an epidemiology professor at the City University of New York’s Schools of Public Health and Health Policy.

“We are going to run out of hospital capacity and ICU capacity pretty quickly if this trajectory continues,” Nash warned. Though he said he expected deaths during this wave of the coronavirus to remain low given the city’s 72% full vaccination rate and improved methods of care for ill patients.

Nash echoed the calls from other public health experts and elected officials for New York City to call off New Year's Eve in Times Square, which he feared could propel the spread of COVID in New York City and beyond.

“It may be friendly to business and commerce, but it’s not public health-friendly,” Nash said. “This is really happening. This does not bode well.”

Last week, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced the annual celebration would be scaled back and that masking would be required, but 15,000 will still be allowed to attend.

Some New Yorkers had noticed an increase in ambulance sirens in recent days. The piercing rings of sirens at all hours are seared in the minds of many New Yorkers who were holed up in their apartment during the city’s first wave.

East Village resident David McGreevy, 64, a retired public school teacher, said the sound of sirens had woken him recently, and he couldn't get back to sleep.

“It took me back to March of 2020 when we were all standing outside on our fire escapes banging pots,” he said. “It just gets a little overwhelming, the sirens don’t help. I just feel so sad for anyone who has to go to a hospital.”