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New York virus cases appear to be leveling off, but could a slight increase occur?

The rapid spread of the Delta variant of the coronavirus in New York this summer has slowed in recent weeks, convincing some epidemiologists that the city’s third wave of the virus has started to ebb. But others are bracing for a slight increase in cases.

With back to school and city agencies and some large corporations forcing a return to the office, the old weekly rhythms are set to return for hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers, even as virus levels remain relatively high.

For now, the rates of new cases and hospitalizations are down from their summer peaks.

As of mid-August, an average of nearly 2,000 people per day tested positive in New York City, a ten-fold increase from the start of the summer. The rate of new cases was highest among young adults, aged 18 to 34. More than 100 people were hospitalized every day.

But over the past three weeks, new cases and other indicators have started to drop. Staten Island has by far the highest level of transmission, with one in 417 people testing positive in a recent seven-day period. This was more than double the rate in Queens, which had the lowest virus levels.

The outbreak in New York City and much of the northeast has been moderate compared to the south, largely because of divergent vaccination rates, epidemiologists say. On Thursday, the city took a new step: five million New York City residents, or about 60% of the population, are now fully vaccinated.

But there are still large pockets of New York that are unvaccinated. In particular, black New Yorkers, who have much lower vaccination rates than other groups, have been hit hardest by the third wave.

So far, the third wave has been minor compared to the previous two. In early September, the number of people hospitalized for Covid-19 in New York in a single day reached 900, before falling below 800 this weekend. In April 2020, they were over 12,100 at the top.