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New York's COVID surge comes right as people had hoped to prepare for holiday travel


New York is in the midst of a surge in COVID-19 cases. Just on Sunday, New York state reported more than 22,000 positive cases. This comes right as people had hoped to travel for the holiday. NPR's Jasmine Garsd reports.

JASMINE GARSD, BYLINE: If you live in New York, chances are you know at least one person who has gotten COVID in the last couple of days.

NICK RUSSO: Well, yeah. Our roommate, within the span of 20 minutes, got two calls that he hung out with someone that tested positive.

GARSD: That's Nick Russo (ph) standing outside a testing line in Bushwick, Brooklyn. He expects an hour wait. The line, like many across the city, is long, nearly reaching the end of the block. Russo says he's getting tested ahead of Christmas travel plans to Massachusetts.

RUSSO: It's been crazy over the last, like, week. It was calm for months now, but now it's been, like, really acting up, I guess.

GARSD: For a lot of New Yorkers who lived through fear and loss in the pandemic's early stages, this is troubling - watching stores close their doors, friends and loved ones get sick and the haunting question, are we going back to March 2020? Stacy Parker LeMelle (ph) in Harlem says up until a few days ago, she, her husband and her 11-year-old planned on extensive holiday travel, visiting family in Michigan and Florida. But that changed last week.

STACY PARKER LEMELLE: The real moment when I was like, you know, maybe this isn't going to work - it was really seeing all the lines for the testing because I wanted us to all get PCR tests before we went to Michigan Sunday morning, and we'll know by Monday morning, and we can just get in the car. You know, I realized it's not going to work that way.

GARSD: Sitting outside a cafe in Ridgewood, Queens, a group of musicians is eating breakfast bagels and coffee. Alex de Simone (ph) says he's concerned about the economic impact as well. He says so many of his colleagues have had to cancel shows.

ALEX DE SIMONE: Definitely. Yeah, I've been booking a tour in February that's, like, two and a half weeks long. And it's taking a lot of logistics, and it's - this is my first time booking a longer tour since the before times, and I'm pretty concerned that it's all just for nothing.

GARSD: Omicron, the highly contagious COVID variant causing the surge, is ground for concern. But New Yorkers seem to have a sense that this is not March 2020, when streets were vacant and the hospitalization and death toll was peaking. Today, over 70% of New Yorkers are fully vaccinated. There are more testing sites.

Wafaa El-Sadr is a professor of epidemiology at the Mailman School of Public Health.

WAFAA EL-SADR: I think the situation is very different, which is, one, is that we have so much more information on how this virus is transmitted. We also have the value of vaccination, which is an enormous asset.

GARSD: LeMelle, the mother in Harlem, says she appreciates the city's policies regarding mask wearing in public venues and showing proof of vaccination to be indoors.

PARKER LEMELLE: Despite our surges and our problems, I've always felt that here, we have so many people and different layers of government, you know, in the hospital systems who are working so hard to keep everything as under control as possible.

GARSD: Like a true New Yorker, she says she feels safer here in her city.

Jasmine Garsd, NPR News, New York.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Jasmine Garsd is an Argentine-American journalist living in New York. She is currently NPR's Criminal Justice correspondent and the host of The Last Cup. She started her career as the co-host of Alt.Latino, an NPR show about Latin music. Throughout her reporting career she's focused extensively on women's issues and immigrant communities in America. She's currently writing a book of stories about women she's met throughout her travels.