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As cases surge (again), State Health Commissioner Bassett says the coronavirus ‘doesn’t get tired’

Dr. Mary Bassett, the state's health commissioner, speaks at a news conference on Dec. 2, 2021.
Mike Wren
New York State Department of Health
Dr. Mary Bassett, the state's health commissioner, speaks at a news conference on Dec. 2, 2021.

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that people in 46 of New York’s 62 counties wear masks in public indoor settings because omicron variants are surging.

The state’s infection rate was at 10.01% on Sunday, the last day that numbers were available. Thirty people died of COVID-19 on May 15.

Despite the recommendations, state Health Commissioner Dr. Mary Bassett acknowledged that many people are not wearing masks.

“I can only speculate that people are tired of this, I’m tired of it,” Bassett said. “But the virus, unfortunately, doesn’t get tired.”

The latest variant, omicron BA 2.12.1, usually does not make people very sick, especially among those who are already vaccinated and boosted. But the health commissioner said COVID-19 remains a serious illness, and each new variant is increasingly transmissible and contagious.

About 12,000 New Yorkers have died of the omicron variant since Bassett became health commissioner in December.

“We should not think of it as mild,” she said. “That’s a lot of lives lost.”

Many New Yorkers are becoming sick with COVID-19 even after being vaccinated and receiving one or even two booster shots. Bassett said health officials believe that the boosters continue to protect against severe illness that can lead to hospitalization and death.

The health commissioner also addressed the seeming unreliability of at-home tests. People who come down with the virus sometimes test negative even though they are experiencing symptoms and do not test positive for several more days.

She said one reason might be those who are vaccinated, or have already had COVID-19, have antibodies that might be responding to the virus more quickly than the tests can initially register.

Her advice: If you have symptoms, don’t go out in public where you could potentially infect others.

“If you’re sick, you should stay home,” she said.

Bassett said the symptoms could also be due to the flu, which is now increasing in New York.

The health commissioner said there is some positive news as the spring advances. The warmer weather will enable more social gatherings to be held outdoors and will slow the spread of the virus.

But she said public health officials are bracing for “the likelihood” of another fall and winter surge, though they hope it will not be as severe as the omicron infection rates last winter.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of public radio stations in New York state. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.