Elmhurst Hospital was ground zero in the first wave of the Coronavirus pandemic in Queens. Mayor Bill de Balsio (WFP-New York City) refuses to reveal whether the City's public hospital system is ready for the Omicron outbreak gripping the City. Progress New York

de Blasio mum about preparing Elmhurst Hospital, and other public hospitals, for an Omicron variant wave that has triggered spikes in hospitalisations elsewhere

Will Elmhurst Hospital hold up ? Hospital capacity was falling across New York State just as the Omicron outbreak began to take its grip.


Updated 20 Dec 2021 10:00 Mayor Bill de Blasio (WFP-New York City) was mum on Sunday about hospital readiness as New Yorkers waited in vain in long lines for COVID-19 tests from Brooklyn to Manhattan, as increasing reports of the Omicron outbreak cast a cascading pall over the final week of Advent in New York.

After hospitalisation rates spiked in London and New Jersey, which many viewed as a harbinger of things to come, it wasn’t clear how Mayor de Blasio was preparing the City’s public hospital system to deal with a possible wave of new hospital admissions. At the end of November, 37 hospitals in New York State had 10 per cent. capacity of less, according to a report published by Spectrum Local News. For this report, the press office servicing Mayor de Blasio never answered multiple media requests.

In addition to refusing to release hospital preparedness plans, the lack of testing capacity was the source of on-going confusion. At Elmhurst Hospital in Queens, a mobile testing lab appeared shuttered on Sunday, and a staff member at the information desk revealed that no COVID-19 tests were being administered by the hospital until Monday. However, down the block and around the corner from the hospital’s main entrance, a clinical office was offering tests, according to an inspection by Progress New York.

The Omicron outbreak has upended Mayor de Blasio’s persistent assertions that he was putting the pandemic “behind us.” Broadway shows, the Radio City Rockettes, and employers ranging from restaurants to CNN were closing or scaling back operations to only essential employees in the face of the rapid spread of the dangerous, new variant of the Coronavirus. Against this reversal, critics of Mayor de Blasio’s pandemic response began to escalate concerns that New York City remained unprepared for the next wave of COVID-19 cases, particularly after it was reported by The City news Web site that Mayor de Blasio had closed 20 City-run testing sites before the current surge of COVID-19 cases.

Mayor de Blasio invoked excuses for a lack of testing capacity on Sunday, but he ignored the issue of hospital readiness.

At a Sunday video press conference, Mayor de Blasio described the Omicron threat as “unexpected” and “temporary,” and he promised to add more testing capacity, despite reports that current, limited capacity was very unreliable. But he never addressed hospital preparedness.

In 2020, Elmhurst Hospital was ground zero for the pandemic’s early days in Queens, the site of an over-run Emergency Department. A 2020 report by the New York Times juxtaposed the situation facing Queens at that time then : it was the borough with the most cases of COVID-19, and it was also the borough with the fewest hospital beds per capita. As a result, hospital patients often went unattended. Many died. New Yorkers, who checked into poorly-funded public hospitals, fared worse than those, who checked into élite private hospitals, according to the report.

Last week, the City’s élite hospitals claimed confidence that they would not run out of capacity or equipment in the face of the Omicron variant outbreak, according to a report published by New York magazine. However, the report noted that the City’s public hospital system lacked the flexibility to add capacity or staff.

One month into the pandemic, Mayor de Blasio promised to address the racial disparities in healthcare outcomes exposed by the pandemic. But with billions in Federal pandemic funding added to the New York City budget, he’s stopped short of significantly increasing the staffing and medical equipment standards at the City’s public hospital system.

Despite Mayor de Blasio’s dismissal of the Omicron threat, Dr. Anthony Fauci, a top U.S. health minister, described the new variant on Sunday as spreading at a “raging” pace world-wide. The World Health Organisation has reported that Omicron cases can double in fewer than three days. It remained unknown whether the limitations in New York City testing capacity were influencing reported COVID-19 cases. From data reported by New York State about New York City, COVID-19 cases jumped 270% between 12 December through 18 December, reaching record highs. For the comparable reported time, cases jumped 255% in Los Angeles County, according to a review by Progress New York.