NYC Faces Lowest Nursing Staff Numbers in Almost 2 Years, 1 in 60 Tests Positive for Virus

New York City hospitals are seeing a nursing shortage even greater than the one before the coronavirus pandemic first ravaged the city, and the lack of health care workers could further exacerbate the growing concern over the Omicron variant's rapid rise now that 1 in 60 people are testing positive in Manhattan.

New York State Nurses Association data shows that the number of permanent nurses across the city's eight privately run hospitals is now below figures seen in February 2020—just weeks before the virus spread swiftly across New York City and sent the state into a state of emergency.

New York state reported its first confirmed case of COVID-19 on March 1. Six days later, former New York Governor Andrew Cuomo declared a state of emergency on March 7.

Two Mount Sinai Health System hospitals in Manhattan have seen nursing figures fall from 4,654 in February 2020 to 4,483 nurses this month. New York-Presbyterian Hospital saw the number of nurses drop from 3,718 to 3,348 in the same period.

This comes at a time when the city's most densely populous borough is reporting that 1 in 60 people tested positive for the virus last week, raising the city's seven-day positivity rate to 15.5 percent.

Figures are particularly high on Manhattan's West Side, where the positivity rate for the Hudson Square/Meatpacking District/West Village area was 16.4 percent between December 14 and 20.

Figures are expected to continue to rise after residents gathered to celebrate the holidays over the weekend.

Nurses Shortage Staffing Hospitals New York City
The nursing shortage in New York City has continued to worsen over the course of the coronavirus pandemic. Above, a nurse outside Mount Sinai Hospital in Manhattan during a March 16 rally demanding that Albany lawmakers pass "safe staffing" legislation. Timothy A. Clary/AFP

To combat the health worker shortage during a possibly massive spike in coronavirus cases, New York Governor Kathy Hochul announced this past Friday that New York front-line workers would need to isolate for only five days after a confirmed infection if they are fully vaccinated and asymptomatic.

Hochul's announcement follows new guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which shortens the amount of time health care workers need to self-isolate in "crisis conditions."

Under such conditions, personnel can return to their health care facilities after five days—half of the previous 10-day standard set by the CDC—if the infected employee is asymptomatic or mildly symptomatic.

Under "conventional" conditions, infected health care workers can return to work after seven days if they produce a negative test.

The shortened isolation times aim to get health care workers back to hospitals that may be overwhelmed by the highly transmissible Omicron variant, while also mitigating further staffing shortages.

Newsweek reached out to the New York State Nursing Association for further comment but did not hear back before publication.