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New York’s potential winter spike in COVID cases doesn’t worry New Yorkers

With the weather cooling, public health officials are warning of a likely rise in COVID cases as they monitor new, potentially more contagious Omicron variants.

But New Yorkers are largely overwhelmed. They are happy to be back to a situation close to normal and most have no intention of retreating.

“I’m not worried,” said Kathryn Cleary, 59, who lives on the Upper West Side and is self-employed. “I feel like people don’t necessarily die from it, and I think if you take reasonable precautions like you would for any flu season, I think you should be. well… It’s right here, it’ll always be there.

Infections caused by rapidly spreading Omicron subvariants have increased in the UK, France and Italy since September. With cold and flu season approaching, officials warn the United States could be next.

Joris Larigaldie, 39, culinary director of the Ritz Carlton NoMad, is not concerned.

“I think we have it under control,” he said. “In 2020 and 2021, even last year, until the first vaccine, it was very worrying, for everyone, for the whole world.”

The city has gradually unwound its mandates for vaccines and masks this year. Last month, Mayor Adams announced the end of New York City’s coronavirus vaccination mandates for private sector workers and student athletes. This followed the end of the broader mandate of indoor vaccines earlier this year. Masks are no longer required when using public transport.

Issac Torrance, 52, a Doordash driver from Fordham, Bronx, wears a mask during deliveries on his bike — but not for COVID.

“It’s to protect against things on the floor, dirt, dust,” Torrance said. “[COVID] is nothing new, you know? Infection rates are low. We no longer need to wear masks.

Bivalent COVID vaccine boosters targeting new omicron variants are widely available and recently approved by the FDA and CDC for children as young as 5 years old. In a recent briefing, Governor Hochul encouraged people to get vaccinated.

“As the weather continues to cool, I urge New Yorkers to be responsible and make sure to use the tools available to keep themselves and their loved ones and communities safe,” Hochul said.

But since the release of the bivalent boosters last month, less than 4% of eligible Americans have received the new vaccines. A recent Kaiser Family Foundation poll found that half of participants had heard little or nothing about the recall.

Health workers wait for patients to administer Pfizer COVID-19 vaccines at Corsi Houses in Harlem on January 15, 2021.

“I’m like, winter is coming? Okay then? People are like, winter is coming, let’s get started. To me, that’s kind of ridiculous,” said Winnie Bracco, 62, a Bay resident Ridge.

“COVID? What is it?” her husband interjected, standing beside her.

“He was very ill…but that’s enough, I think,” Bracco said. “That’s enough; 2020 was madness. But you build your immunity.

Ari Soavin, 21, is a dancer who works at a Chelsea thrift store and lives in Washington Heights. “I would be worried [if cases started to go up],” she said. “I wear a mask on the subway and at work,” but not in social situations. “Socially, it’s less important. I feel like I’m letting go.”

Dinners at The Wicked Wolf restaurant in the Bronx.
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Jennifer Berman, 57, said she was still taking some COVID precautions.

“I feel like we don’t really know,” said Upper West Side resident Berman. “We are in New York, where people come from all over the world. I think it’s going to get better, and I think it’s going to get worse. For me, a lot of people act like it’s already over, and I don’t think it’s over. I always wear my mask on the subway.

Niurka Mena, 36, said she started seeing COVID as similar to other coughs, colds and seasonal ailments.

“It’s the type of weather that always makes everyone sick,” she said. “The sniffles, everything. I notice that people always cover themselves when they cough. So maybe the cases will increase… but right now it’s much better than when it started. People are cooler.

If cases started to spike or a mandate was in place, she would start wearing a mask more, especially on the subway.

Jake DiGiovanni, 28, works in marketing and lives in Murray Hill.

“I’m not really worried about COVID,” he said. “I am vaccinated, and it seems like a lot of people are. … I think it’s going to get a little worse, but taking the normal precautions like wearing a mask in public places, hand sanitizer… I feel like at this point you’re either at board, or you’re not.