What does NYC's high COVID alert level mean?

New York City has entered what it calls a "high alert level" for COVID-19, the city's Department of Health and Mental Hygiene announced on Tuesday. 

Community spread of the coronavirus is high, putting "substantial pressure" on the health care system, according to health officials.

Manhattan Borough President Mark Levine is among several officials urging New Yorkers to take precautions to reduce the risk of spreading infection. 

"We're seeing 3,500 cases a day or more reported, and we know this is a very contagious form of COVID," Levine said. "So people should take precautions. They should wear masks in public indoor places." 

On Monday, Dr. Ashwin Vasan, the city's health commissioner, issued an advisory urging all New Yorkers to wear a mask while indoors — including in grocery stores, building lobbies, offices, stores, and other common or shared spaces.

"People who are older than 65 or otherwise at a high risk of severe illness from COVID-19 should also wear a mask in crowded outdoor settings and avoid gatherings when possible," the Health Department said. "These heightened precautions will help slow the spread of COVID-19 and keep more New Yorkers out of the hospital while community spread of COVID-19 remains high."

But Are Mandates Changing?

No. The commissioner's advisory is not a mandate. The alert level has triggered "guidance" from the city. 

"The COVID-19 Alert Levels reflect COVID-19 transmission and health care capacity in the city," the Health Department stated. "You can determine what precautions you need to take and how to best protect yourself and others based on each level."

Health officials are recommending but not mandating that children go back to wearing masks in school.

Businesses don't have to require patrons to wear masks, either. 

Salon owner Avi Benichou has been styling hair on the Upper East Side for 30 years. The pandemic has taken a toll on his small business, Lovella Salon. Even though COVID infections are rising again, he plans to allow his customers to do whatever makes them feel safe. 

"I am not going to force [masking] but if a client requests for me to wear one I will definitely wear one," Benichou said.

How is NYC Doing Overall?

While the numbers are troubling, the city is doing far better than it was at the height of the onset of the pandemic in 2020, according to Northwell Health's Dr. Bruce Hirsch, an infectious disease physician. 

"The hospitalization rate is up but the critical illness — the number of people on breathing machines, the number of people who were dying from COVID — we're not seeing what we saw before," Hirsch said. "So it's a different time. A lot of us have had COVID, a lot of us have been vaccinated for COVID." 

NYC Guidance During High Alert Level

This is a summary of the city Health Department's guidance for living through a "high alert level" for COVID-19. (Adapted from NYC.gov.)


"Stay up to date with COVID-19 vaccines: Get vaccinated and boosted."


"Wear a face mask in all public indoor settings and crowded outdoor settings. Upgrade to higher-quality masks, including KN95, KF94, N95, or a cloth mask on top of a surgical mask." 


"Do not go to crowded, indoor gatherings."


"Testing is especially important if you have COVID-19 symptoms or were recently in contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19."


"Stay home if sick or recently exposed. Follow all isolation and quarantine guidance, including wearing a face mask." 


"Wash your hands frequently with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, or use a hand sanitizer."

With FOX 5 NY's Sharon Crowley.