New York City has managed a remarkable turnaround against COVID-19 and is eager to continue down the path to normalcy. However, the city’s top health official is warning that a rise in COVID-19 cases may force it to restore a city-wide mask mandate.

On Tuesday, New York City Health Commissioner Ashwin Vasan spoke about the rise in cases of COVID-19, particularly those connected to the BA.2 subvariant of the Omicron strain. If this trend is left unaddressed, Vasan warned that the city may have no choice but to bring back the mask mandate.

“It’s clear that if we moved into a high risk and high alert environment, we’d be seriously considering bringing those mandates back,” Vasan told CNBC.

Vasan did not commit to restoring the mask mandate, but he said that this position could change if things do not improve. If the city were to rise to a sufficiently high alert level according to New York City's COVID-19 alert system, Vasan said tougher options would be required but added making the choices sooner than later would be "determinative".

On Monday, the city announced that it was raising the COVID-19 alert level to "medium." According to the city, the hospital occupancy is currently at 3% of total capacity and there are now approximately 225 cases per 100,000 people. It also estimates that 99% of cases identified are related to the Omicron variant.

New York City was once the epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic, but it has since become much more relaxed in its restrictions as serious cases, hospitalizations and deaths declined. 

In March, Mayor Eric Adams withdrew the vaccination checks at indoor venues and withdrew the mask mandate in schools after the state did the same. However, Gov. Kathy Hochul left open the space for localities to reimplement mask mandates or other public health measures at their own discretion after lifting the statewide mandate.

Vasan downplayed the likelihood of a variant equivalent to Omicron in its transmissibility emerging, but noted that did not translate to a need to abandon precautions.

“Now is not the time to start rolling that back,” Vasan said. “The pandemic is certainly not over.”