Statements and Letters

Statements from the Health Department

August 2023

Statement From the NYC Health Commissioner Dr. Ashwin Vasan on the BA.2.86 COVID-19 Variant

Like all viruses, Covid-19 adapts, and we continue to adapt to keep New Yorkers safe too. One recent change to COVID-19 is the BA.2.86 variant, which has been seen in other parts of the U.S. and was recently detected in New York City’s sewage. While we have yet to find it in a specimen from a local resident, it is almost certainly circulating here.

Based on the degree of mutations – while vaccinated people continue to be protected against serious illness – this variant may be more likely to evade immunity that has developed from vaccination or prior infection than earlier variants. But there is currently no indication that it causes more severe illness. We continue to monitor this carefully, alongside our colleagues at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization.

As cases rise, precautions become increasingly important, especially for our most vulnerable New Yorkers who are older, disabled, or have underlying health conditions. Staying up to date with COVID-19 vaccines, along with other proven prevention tools – like masking, testing, and staying home when sick – continue to be our best defense against COVID-19 and other respiratory viruses. Antibodies from vaccination and prior infection will continue to provide some protection, as will available antiviral treatments like Paxlovid, which is still effective against all circulating strains of COVID-19.

As we enter the traditional respiratory virus season, an updated COVID-19 vaccine is expected to become available in the coming weeks. Studies are still evaluating the new booster for its effectiveness against the BA.2.86 variant, but indicators suggest it will be effective at preventing severe illness and death. That’s why it’s especially important that New Yorkers that are most vulnerable get the new booster when it's available. New Yorkers should talk to their health care or vaccination providers about the updated COVID-19 vaccine and this year’s flu vaccine. It is also a perfect time to get this year’s flu vaccine when available. For new parents, talk to your child’s pediatrician about the benefits of the RSV monoclonal antibody for infants, and for older or at-risk adults, talk to your provider about getting the new RSV vaccine. For assistance with finding a health care provider, call 311 or visit to find a location near you and make an appointment.

June 2023

NYC Health Department Statement on Air Quality

While forecasting air quality is challenging and often unpredictable, we anticipate that conditions could deteriorate — getting worse on Thursday — due to unprecedented wildfires in Canada.

Poor air quality can affect people differently, so individuals must assess their own sensitivities and adjust to conditions at the time. The most important action we can take is to stay informed. provides regular updates of air conditions in your community.

While we currently project air quality index (AQI) to be in the moderate range (between 51-100) today, wind patterns can quickly change without notice.

At an AQI of 101-150, New Yorkers who are likely to be most sensitive to a reduction in air quality and who should take precautions include:

  • Children,
  • Older adults, and
  • People of all ages with heart or breathing problems (e.g., asthma, heart failure).

When the AQI goes over 150, ALL New Yorkers should begin to take precautions.

These precautions include:

  • Limiting time outdoors and/or taking frequent breaks from the outdoors.
  • Avoiding prolonged and intense outdoor activities (this is especially important for caretakers, as children with asthma are especially sensitive).
  • Call 911 if you or someone you’re caring for has trouble breathing.
  • Monitoring conditions and being prepared. Now is a good time to pick up a mask, in case air quality deteriorates. The city is already making masks available at FDNY firehouses and NYPD precincts and is looking to expand supplies to more vulnerable communities.
  • When air quality is poor, wearing a high-quality mask (e.g., N95) can reduce exposure to harmful pollutants. We will continue to communicate with New Yorkers about air quality through the summer. The situation will change regularly but we can be prepared for the months ahead.

The city will provide alerts if conditions deteriorate further (e.g., AQI above 200), but warnings sent by your body are equally important. New Yorkers should listen to their body. Reactions to poor air quality can include watery eyes, scratchy throat, headaches, or shortness of breath.

If you feel any of these conditions, go indoors and limit time outside.

And sign up for alerts from @NotifyNYC at

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