NEW YORK (PIX11) — After two years of a COVID-19 lockdown, people have shed their masks and are out and about again enjoying the spirit of the holiday. But that’s raising concern in the medical community as they’re seeing an unsettling surge in COVID-19 and other respiratory illnesses. That has prompted the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to urge us to cover up once again this winter.

As Gov. Kathy Hochul noted during a press briefing, “We’re not out of the woods yet. The threat is real. We have cases we’re watching intensely.”

The governor sounded the alarm as the number of respiratory illnesses are rising throughout the state. COVID-19 cases alone in four of New York City’s five boroughs have jumped to levels that have prompted the CDC to recommend that people wear masks indoors and on public transportation

The latest data shows that Queens has seen a 16% increase in positive cases. The Bronx and Brooklyn are close to 14%, and Staten Island is about 12%. On Long Island, Nassau and Suffolk counties have registered a 13% spike in positive COVID-19 cases.

Dr. Anthony Santella, an infectious disease specialist and professor of public health at Fairfield University, said masks remain an important took in presenting the spread of COVID-19.

“For us, when we cough or sneeze, we produce droplets and spray that may contain germs. So the mask provides an actual physical barrier so these germs don’t enter the airstream,” Santella said.

Mary Basset, New York’s outgoing health commissioner, is alarmed by the rising numbers of cases, noting, “The numbers are extraordinarily worrying.” 

Of most concern, she says, are older New Yorkers, people 65 and older. She urged everyone to get vaccinated and those who have, to get the booster shot. She advises everyone follow this protocol. “Wash your hands, cover your coughing and sneezing, and you have to get your kids to do this again. And stay home when you’re sick.”

While voicing concern over the jump in COVID-19 cases, the governor also said she is alarmed by the jump in cases of the flu with 27,000 new cases reported throughout the state. “That’s a dramatic jump from a year ago,” she declared, adding, “A 75% increase in positive flu cases, some from the beginning of the flu season that started just weeks ago.”

Hochul offered assurances that the state is well prepared to handle COVID-19 and other cases. She said it has the tools, including more than 7,500 ventilators. “We feel good where we are,” she said. “But we are not taking anything for granted because circumstances can change rapidly as they did last year.”

The “tridemic” sickening New Yorkers is also impacting the rest of the country, which is also seeing a surge in positive COVID-19, RSV and flu cases. With the official start of winter just two weeks away, health officials are advising everyone to get a flu shot, a COVID-19 vaccination and or booster, and wear a mask in crowded places and on public transportation.