Omicron wreaks havoc on NYC, causes crippling staff shortages

Omicron is wreaking havoc on New York City thanks to crippling staffing shortages caused by the raging COVID-19 variant.

Between vital transportation and emergency services, retailers and schools, workers are calling in sick by the thousands while grappling with the coronavirus and mandatory quarantines.

“There’s hardly a sector that’s not impacted,” Manhattan Borough President Mark Levine told The Post on Monday.

“The impact is real.”

As the Big Apple continues to battle its latest surge of COVID-19 cases, the NYPD had 14 percent – or nearly 5,000 of the force’s 35,000 uniformed officers – out sick Monday.

Almost 2,000 cops had COVID, while the other 3,000 were experiencing flu-like symptoms, a source told The Post.

“There’s hardly a sector that’s not impacted,” Manhattan Borough President Mark Levine told The Post on Monday.
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Meanwhile, the FDNY said 30 percent of its 4,200 EMS staff and 18 percent of its 11,000 firefighters were sick.

The state changed its isolation guidance two weeks ago — in accordance with the CDC — to allow fully vaccinated workers to quarantine for just five days instead of 10, in a bid to avoid entire industries being wiped out as the Omicron variant raged.

But even the regulations can be muddled, Levine said.

“The CDC should have specified that you needed a test to exit isolation in Day 5,” the beep said.

He noted that the agency is now suggesting it may soon recommend that, causing “unnecessary confusion in the meantime.”

Man getting tested
People must wait in line for hours in some parts to get tested because of demand and a shortage of tests.
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City officials confirmed Monday they are adhering to the state and CDC revised isolation guidelines.

Even so, COVID-19 is leaving city departments and scores of businesses short-staffed, a bad situation worsened by the fact that people must wait in line for hours in some parts to get tested because of demand and a shortage of tests.

The MTA won’t say how many of its 70,000 employees have been sidelined because of Omicron, but sources said Monday that the figure is “very high” – estimated to be at least several thousand.

The transit worker shortages have already forced a cut back to train services, including shutting down three local lines – the B, W and Z – through Monday. Other train and bus routes also have suffered, including the cancelation of 56 scheduled bus runs on New Year’s Eve.

By Monday afternoon, 118 flights out of LaGuardia Airport had already been canceled, according to the Flight Aware tracking site. John F. Kennedy International Airport saw 43 of its scheduled flights axed – part of a nationwide trend amid Omicron cases and wintry weather conditions.

More than 100 travelers – many of them tourists trying to return home after visiting New York City for the holidays — were forced to stand outside in freezing temperatures Monday as they waited for COVID tests at LaGuardia’s Terminal B, with some missing their international flights.  

New York JFK airport
New York allows fully vaccinated workers to quarantine for just five days instead of 10.
Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

COVID cases remain high across the Big Apple, with the daily average of confirmed infections for the past seven days at nearly 27,000, city health data shows.

Nearly 34 percent of NYC residents who got tested ended up with a positive result on average in the past week.

The seven-day average for hospitalizations is at least 492 per day, according to the data.

“It is a relief that only a very small percentage of cases require hospitalization,” said Levine, former chairman of the City Council’s Health Committee. “Having said that, a small percentage of a big number is still a big number.”

“Fifteen thousand or 20,000 wasn’t imaginable two weeks ago. Because those numbers are so big, it’s now beginning to flood the hospitals.

“The impact on the hospitals where staff were – even before this wave – exhausted, this is a very, very difficult time,” he said.

COVID Testing line
Nearly 34 percent of NYC residents who got tested ended up with a positive result on average in the past week.
Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Northwell Health, the largest private hospital system in the Empire state, said Monday that it hasn’t had to cancel or postpone any treatments over staffing concerns.

“Any staffing shortages we are experiencing have so far been managed with no impact to quality of patient care,” a rep told The Post.

Exact numbers of shortages at Northwell Health, which has more than 77,000 employees statewide and runs Lenox Hill Hospital, weren’t immediately available.  

A spokesperson for NYC Health + Hospitals insisted Monday that the city’s public system was “stable” – although the system’s president, Dr. Mitchell Katz, had warned last month of potential shortages brought on by staffers being exposed to Omicron.

Healthcare worker
“Any staffing shortages we are experiencing have so far been managed with no impact to quality of patient care,” a rep told The Post.
Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

As for the city’s already-struggling restaurant industry, it has been struck hard by Omicron — with many establishments forced to shut down during the busy holiday season as staffers tested positive or were exposed to COVID.

Andrew Rigie, executive director of the New York City Hospitality Alliance, said staffing shortages were just part of the problem crippling the industry.

“Restaurants are facing serious challenges, from a critical labor shortage made worse by the spike and COVID cases, to fewer customers and lots of debt,” he said.

“We need government to step up and replenish the Restaurant Revitalization Fund grant program, bring back the popular ‘alcohol to go,’ and again allow propane heaters for winter outdoor dining, and a lot more.”

Firms such as Goldman Sachs were asking their workers to just stay home till at least Jan. 18 to address the surge.

Newly minted Mayor Eric Adams has insisted that public schools will continue with in-person instruction amid the Omicron surge, saying administrative staffers would pinch-hit for absent teachers.

Eric Adams
Mayor Eric Adams has insisted that public schools will continue with in-person amid the Omicron surge.
Bloomberg via Getty Images

Adams and United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew both said staffing was stable overall as school resumed Monday morning – and there were sufficient substitutes to fill any gaps.

“We’re going to adjust and pivot based on the numbers. We’re going to have real-time updates, creating our own command center, [if] we see a drop in staffing, we’re going to draw from our pool of employees who are waiting, and we’re going to go all out,” Adams said in an MSNBC interview.

“If you’re a superintendent, if you’re an administrator, you have a teaching license, we want you in that school building,” he said. “We’re going to shift and adjust in real time.”

His remarks came after the principal of PS 58 in Brooklyn told families Sunday evening that it would hold remote learning Monday due to COVID-19 cases — without authorization from the city Department of Education.

Mulgrew also sent out a letter to union members over the weekend suggesting they push for remote learning this week amid the surge in new cases.

“We advised the new mayor that it would be safest to allow our school system to go remote temporarily until we could get a handle on the staffing challenges that each school is about to face as we return,” Mulgrew said in the note. “However, he feels strongly that schools need to remain open.”

The mayor doubled down Monday, declaring: “I am keeping my schools open.”

He also boasted, “When a mayor has swagger, the city has swagger.

“We’ve allowed people to beat us down so much that all we did was wallow in COVID –that’s all we did — and we no longer believed this is a city of swagger, this is a city of resiliency.”

It wasn’t immediately clear how many schools staffers were out sick as students returned after winter break.

Additional reporting Craig McCarthy and Kevin Sheehan

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